I wonder if this would be a better story if I could tell you that the very day after I did that obituary exercise, I went into the office and told my boss what to do with his lousy job.
Truth is, I didn’t have the courage. It’s hard, at least in the early stages, to dare to be different. As humans we are conditioned from an early age to fit in – and as women, all too often, we are conditioned not only to fit in but also to please, to be “nice”, to live according to what we think other people expect of us rather than what we actually want.
But also, almost since humans could talk, we’ve had stories about the outlier, the one person in the tribe who becomes dissatisfied with the status quo, and wonders if there might be more to life, new territories to explore.
I had never seen myself as that outlier. I was a follower, not a leader. I wasn’t creative or courageous. And yet, and yet…. On that fateful evening when I wrote the two versions of my obituary, I had glimpsed a different version of myself. When I wrote that fantasy obituary, of the person who lived courageously, who grabbed hold of life with both hands, who didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought, it had felt very real to me – astonishingly real, in fact, as if that was the life I was supposed to be living.
(Aside: If I ruled the world (!) I would make sure that every child in every country learns how to live a happy and fulfilling life, how to be true to themselves, how to nurture creativity, and how to be useful in the world. Especially now, when so many of the old reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic tasks are being taken over by computers and robots, we no longer need to be cogs in the machines of industry. Knowing how to live is the most important skill we can give our children – or actually, we don’t even have to give it to them. They already have it. We just have to not squash it out of them.)
Anyway, back to the story.
Fortunately for me, my subconscious mind was smarter than my self-conscious and self-protecting ego. It wasn’t going to let me off the hook.
Over the next few years, all the things that I had thought represented security and status disappeared from my life – my career, my income, my marriage, my home.
I won’t say that all those choices were deliberate ones. To take such enormous decisions consciously would have taken more courage than I could muster. They were tough and often traumatic.
Whatever it was, it was turning my life upside down in crazy ways, leading to acts that looked like major self-sabotage at the time, but in retrospect make perfect sense in leading me down that path I needed to follow. It was like, in writing those two obituaries, I had unleashed a powerful force that was like a cross between a monster and a fairy godmother. So why don’t we call it the fairy godmonster?
Oh heck, I’m going to have to quote Steve Jobs again:
So in fact, in “losing” all those things, I found a whole load of new things that would serve me much better in this fantasy future that I was accidentally creating. Little by little I began to realign my life, to put myself on track for the obituary I really wanted.
I learned that living life according to my values made me happier than a big income and lots of possessions.
I stopped being a compulsive planner and started taking a more trusting approach to life.
I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me, and started caring more about what I thought of myself.
I accepted that mistakes are a fact of life, an inevitable consequence of being adventurous and trying new things.
I realized that it matters less whether something is a success or a failure, and matters more what I learn from the experience.
It became clear to me, intellectually and emotionally and intuitively, that we have to look after our planet if we want it to look after us.
And life became, not to put too fine a point on it, a really cool, magical, amazing experience. I felt like a surfer on a wave – a beginner surfer, with a very wobbly sense of balance – but life was incredibly exciting. So if I could just find the courage and confidence to stay on my board and ride that massive wave of energy, I trusted that it would take me to exactly where I needed to be.
Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you more thoughts on courage, and how we can ALL find it and use it to make the world a better place.
Q: I’m thinking of starting a podcast on courage, with weekly conversations with courageous people to inspire us all. What do you think? Yay or nay? Post a comment below and let me know!