The first week of the new year just passed. Is that supposed to be significant, you may be asking? In the general scheme of things, it's another week like virtually any other week. Seven days, 168 hours 10,080 minutes and 604,800 seconds. The other day during one of those minutes I perused an email I received from my friend, Tommy, in Florida. It was titled “Mind Food” and contained a series of photos each with a caption with some interesting tidbit of knowledge. The one at the top of this article jumped out at me.
Yes, another week like any other week and the minute that I was looking at this picture with the caption reminded me of precisely why a little over seven years ago I made a sharp course correction in my life. Even though, most of my life I've, more or less, charted my own course, as I look back, I realize I was still living the life expected of me and not the one that was really true to myself. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it epitomizes the three words, “woulda,” shoulda” and “coulda.”
I've touched on hindsight and woulda, shoulda and coulda before. But, we can never be reminded enough of how futile focusing on hindsight and what would have been or what should have been or what could have been actually is. They are really lessons learned and beacons of what's behind us. Reality tells us we can't change the past. It is our history. All the wonderful and good things, all the nasty and bad things and everything between are the milestones that brought us to right now, the end of the first week of this new year. This is life. Life is only lived in the present. The past is like a canceled check, the present is our spendable cash on hand and the future is a promissory note we may or may not collect someday.
Another friend, Greg, a college chum from New Jersey, sent one of his inspirational quotes earlier today and it was from that often quoted Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. It addresses this topic very nicely considering it was spoken about 2,500 years ago. Lao Tzu said, "If you are depressed, you are living in the past! If you are anxious, you are living in the future! If you are at peace, you are living in the present!" I wish I had a dollar for every time I've seen that quote. And, of course, these are probably the very things that led Thoreau to say, in again, an oft quoted statement I've used in the blog, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Two words. A direct command. Simple! Concise! But, so meaningful and action packed. Live life! At it's most basic, that's exactly what life is all about. Many people have written about this subject.
I, as I usually do, did a little online research to see how accurate the statement is about being the biggest deathbed regret. It's accurate! I found reference after reference to this effect. It was number one on the list of the top five regrets in numerous sources. Forbes Magazine listed the top 25 regrets and, while this didn't rank as number one, it was right up there near the top of the list. And, as I read the 25 regrets on the Forbes list, it appeared to me that in one manner or another the 25 actually fit in the five biggest regrets listed everywhere else I searched.
Why do we live the life expected of us rather than the life that is true to our dreams and inner drives? Because we are conditioned that way from infancy. I've discussed this before. The important people in our lives influence who we become and lay the foundation of our behavior in our future adult lives. I still remember hearing things like, “children are to be seen and not heard.” What does that mean? Are we supposed to be perfect mannequins? And then there is “look, but don't touch.” And, of course, we can't forget that cat that was killed by curiosity, can we?
How many times have you felt and expressed child-LIKE exuberance and been admonished to act your age, stop being childish or acting like a child. There's a difference. Unfortunately, too many people don't understand that. If we're adults we're supposed to be serious all the time?
We take classes in school that don't hold a lot of interest for us. So, we don't do as well in those classes. But, there may be other classes or pursuits that excite and motivate us. Unfortunately, some parents don't understand that, so we're admonished for not doing well and, sometimes, we're punished by not being allowed to spend more time doing the things we're especially interested in and do well. Fortunately, some youngsters defy their parent and become highly regarded and respected artists, photographers, writers, composers, musicians, athletes, chefs, inventors, actors, etc.
But, in the grand scheme of things, the percentage of people who defied the “powers that were” and chased their dreams are a very small percentage of the population as a whole. Most people live the lives that were expected of them. It doesn't matter whether one dropped out of high school, earned a high school diploma, earned a college degree and maybe even multiple graduate degrees. Living life doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how much education one has. True, in many cases, having the education is very important to one's future success regardless of whether it's being a white water rafting guide, a surfing champion, an archaeologist, an airline pilot, a business owner, a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief.
In fact, based on various studies, about 60% to 65% of college graduates do not end up working in jobs related to the major field of study they earned a degree in. Most end up taking jobs out of necessity and survival. Some were never really interested in working in the field they earned their degree. I count myself among that last group. I studied to become a teacher in the field of Industrial Arts. It wasn't my desired career choice, but at 18 my father and various family friends guided me in that direction . . . sort of.
I was fortunate because through a set of unique circumstances I discovered my passion as a freshman and followed my own path. I successfully completed my bachelor degree in Industrial Arts Education and then went on to earn a masters degree in Television & Radio. But, my chosen profession was in the sound and recording industry. Something I received no formal education in. I later expanded that into video production and eventually ended up as a book publisher. I had a small amount of training in video production through my masters program, but again, most of my experience was from my own on the job training as I accepted projects and just did them.
The vast majority of people don't have the good fortune I had. Of course, it also helped that I had the entrepreneurial spirit and have worked for myself my entire life. I should add, except for the four years I “involuntarily” spent in the Air Force. Fortunately, I spent those years working in the recording and radio production field, right where I wanted to be. That was not by accident, either. I actually found the job I wanted in Washington, DC and was hired for that job before enlisting in the Air Force. So, instead of “sacrificing” four years of my life to serve my country, I served my country meritoriously and gained a massive amount of experience, knowledge and honed my skills in the field I made my career in.
I don't relate that story to brag, but rather to illustrate that to live the life you desire, you have to seek it out and do whatever it takes to live life on your own terms. It took extra effort on my account and determination to make it happen to my benefit. But, after all, whose life was it anyway? Mine, of course. So, I did what I had to for my purposes.
Many people will make excuses for the direction their life went. This is what my parents wanted me to do. I got out of school and couldn't find my dream job (not that you actually, really knew what your dream job was anyway, since you had little or no experience). Or, I got married and had to find whatever job I could to start our life together. Or, we got pregnant and any job became the immediate order of business. Or, my father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, pastor/priest/rabbi, teacher, guidance counselor, professor, career counselor, friend, etc. knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone looking for an employee just like me. Or maybe there was a family business you really weren't interested in, but you were offered a job and expected to work for the family business. So, that's how you started your career.
Most people will rationalize their jobs telling others their jobs are okay or fine or they enjoy their work – or the best one, “I love what I do.” I simply ask the question that if money were no question, would you work at that job for free? If not, you don't love it. You tolerate and rationalize it. Again, research conducted by Forbes Magazine, Gallup and numerous other respected research and polling organization indicate that between 60% and 80% of all employed people in the U.S. are unhappy with their jobs and dislike what they do. That number is most frequently expressed as 70%. It covers the full gamut from unskilled, skilled to college educated individuals of both genders.
So, here's a dumb question. If a person dislikes and is unhappy in a job, why does he or she do it? Again, according to current studies, work consumes about one-third of the 168 hours in a week including commuting and lunch time. Subtract another, approximately one-third for rest/sleep and grooming time. This leaves one-third of the 168 hours to take care of family matters, meals, meal preparation, housework, shopping, other necessities and recreational time. Why does anyone spend one third of their time, or at least 50% of their waking hours doing something they dislike and are unhappy doing?
Once again, the typical response is because “I have to.” “It's what is expected of me by society.” “I need to be a productive person.” But, where does it say you have to do it by being unhappy and disliking whatever it is? “But, I need to have X amount of money to afford our lifestyle.” Who chose your lifestyle and why? It wouldn't be that nebulous “it's what someone else expects of me.” Would it? Is it your parents, siblings, friends, offspring or someone else's expectations you feel you have to live up to? Could it be your spouse? Does he or she expect to live to some one else's expectations, therefore you must comply and conform?
You shouldn't have to live any kind of life expected of you. It's not your parents', siblings', friends', or anyone else's life to live. It's yours. With a spouse and offspring things may be a little different. One of the challenges is who you each (husband and wife) represented yourself to be when you met and went through the courting process and if you were each honest about your expectations of a life together? Let's create a scenario. One of the partner's dream life was to be a ski instructor at a ski resort during the winter and a white water rafting guide during the summer, living and traveling in an RV. The other partner's dream was to be an accountant with a large multinational corporation and live in a large home in an exclusive suburb of a large city. There is a serious problem in this scenario.
The problem is pretty simple. One of the two partners is going to be VERY unhappy. This was not a match made in heaven, actually, just the opposite. Admittedly, this example may be a bit on the extreme side, but it's certainly not unrealistic. This happens. The challenges of this marriage should have been addressed before it ever reached the stage of “I do.” These dreams should have been openly and honestly expressed and addressed early in the relationship to discover if there was a way to make both lives fulfilling and live the dreams . . . or not. And, if it was an "or not," then there should never have been an “I do.”
Here's the bottom line. This is the 21st Century. Every woman and every man has a right to live a life true to herself and himself. We are beyond the days when the wife of the partnership was expected to give up her dreams for her partner's dreams. It's my personal opinion and belief that this lack of communication and honesty about each person's dreams and expectations from life is the cause of so much discord and divorce.
I have met many couples who are in just about complete harmony in their lives as a married couple because they found a mate who had compatible (not necessarily the same) dreams and life expectations. They determined how much money they would need to live a lifestyle true to both their desires. They basically agreed on where they would live and how they would live whether in an RV, a cabin in the woods, a modest home in the suburbs, apartment or condo in a city or a huge mansion. Neither partner had to compromise or sacrifice very much for both partners to be true to their own life expectations. But, like everything else in life, if you want to be true to yourself AND have a happy marriage, you must be willing to seek the compatible partner and agree on the life journey you'll travel together.
As far as the kids go, they're going to go along with whatever lifestyle they are born into. After they are old enough to be exposed to other people outside their own lifestyle and peer pressure, they may have some other attitudes. But, that's okay, within bounds. Allow them to express themselves and remind them that one day they'll be able to make these same choices for themselves. And, by being an example of how great this can work, they will probably be considerably ahead of their friends when they enter adulthood. My own son is an example of that. Unfortunately, his mother and I weren't quite as wise back then. So, we've been apart for two and half decades. However, we're still friends and cheer each other on in our pursuits of the lives we each want.
Just Do It!
That's been the Nike slogan for over 25 years. I like it. And, when it comes to living a life true to yourself, that's my advice. Just do it! You only get one shot at life. Why would you want to live that one life to fulfill someone else's expectations of you?
If you're not happy with your life as it is. If you're not happy in your job. If you're not happy in your marriage. If you don't like where you live. If you see your life passing you by and those dreams you had when you were a teenager or young 20 something are lying dormant, gathering dust and cobwebs on the back shelf of your mind and heart . . . Why? You have every right as a free human being to chase those dreams.
Yes! There are some considerations to be made. You may have to modify or change your life and lifestyle drastically. But, what's worse, living the rest of your life in quiet desperation or going for the brass ring? Do you want to be one of the vast majority of people who will, on your deathbed, regret that you lived the life expected of you instead of a life true to yourself? Live life! Just do it!
And just so you know, the other four biggest regrets people have are:
- They wish they hadn't worked so hard!
- They wish they would have had the courage to express their feelings!
- They wish they would have stayed in touch with their friends!
- They wish they would have let themselves be happier!
All four of those relate back to the number one biggest regret.
Live free and be happy! EH