Life Moves Pretty Fast
From driving a top of the range S Class V8 luxury Mercedes to a family Toyota. From managing 35 people in 3 countries to managing just one. From working 60 hour weeks with no time for yoga lessons, the gym or golf to less than 20. So many of the changes I made were counter-intuitive. In a world that demands more of everyone, how can doing less make you more happy?
To illustrate I won't launch into Nietschze, Plato or Tony Robbins but recall the opening lines of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off".
"Life moves pretty fast......if you don't stop to look around once in a while you could miss it."
Ferris Bueller pretty much embodies everything I believe a man should be: a little dangerous, immensely charming, funny, an optimist, adventurous, challenging, a bit dodgy, curious, subversive, latitudinarian and importantly... free.
Ferris' aphorism is one of happiness through a journey of self-discovery. The symbolism is not lost on Ferris' wanted joy ride through life courtesy of his buddy Cameron's rich father's 1961 Ferrari GT California - the object of desire he had sacrificed his best years for to purchase yet so precious that it was permanently locked in the garage.
While a few lucky ones amongst us could claim to owning a 1961 Ferrari GT California, we all democratically own time and happiness and the vast majority of us have, like Cameron's Dad, kept it locked in the garage for that "some day" when we'll be able to finally rest our work-weary feet, retire and say "now I can enjoy life".
Often it's difficult to value that which we take for granted until it's taken away from us. My father in many respects was like most males of the war generation - a hard worker and ultimately just like Cameron's Dad. Hours toiled in service would ultimately lead to the prize payoff - a defined earnings pension and an annuity that would assure him and my mother that the "golden years" of their life could be enjoyed without the spectre of poverty in old age - the fear that haunted the generation's psyche.
Yet, he was never to enjoy the golden years. Diagnosed with cancer and forced into early retirement a year ahead of plan aged 59 he spent his last few years bravely fighting an uphill battle against a menace that took hold of his life and reduced a once fit, proud man into a skeletal bag of hair, tubes and bones.
I wonder what Dad would have thought reflecting on Soren Kirkegaard's quote "Life must be lived forward but understood backwards". It would have been of little solace on his deathbed aged 63 and of little meaning aged 33 when we're all busy striving to build careers and families. If he knew there were to be no "golden years" and no key to the garage door, would he - like the rest of us - realized that Ferris Bueller's instruction to "look around once in a while" could signal a greater need amongst all of us to enjoy living in the moment rather than deferring everything until that "some day"?
To say that his death would have evoked my own epiphany would be a lie. I became obsessed with the notion that Dad had never seen me "succeed" and that I would have to toil harder to recover lost time. Within a year I had purchased the Mercedes and felt, for a short while at least, that "I had arrived".
It's difficult to get perspective when you're right in the middle of something. It's no different with living. Sometimes we're too busy to know what's going on and life is just too noisy to allow us a momentary respite to think. No wonder then that babies and old people - those who live at the peripherary - perhaps are our greatest teachers.
A young child doesn't need designer clothes, a car bigger than her neighbours or "director" in her job title to feel loved. Nor does she slave meaninglessly all day in order that she can earn enough spare money to run on a treadmill in the evening. To be happy, all she needs is to be in the moment. Past, future and all the content that defines our identities have little meaning.
Similarly, the humility of the old - their polite ways, their ability to sit for hours and watch young people play or passers-by are the fruits of a seed sown when they realized and accepted their mortality, that life's end was closer than the beginning and all that mattered was that which was important - friends, loved ones and being happy.
Being a farmer born in Yorkshire, the gritty agricultural heartland of puritanical England the concept of self-reflection and philosophy were alien. As with all farmers, they simply worked all hours given to them and taking time out to "think about life" would have been shamefully self-indulgent. So it follows that, beyond a few jokes about the uncertainty of his hidden fortunes squirreled away during a life of work, Dad was never particularly philosophical about his final days.
What is certain, however, is we will all one day come to the final page of our life. Those of us lucky to reflect on the preceding chapters may impart some regrets. "I wish I had more time to..." would be common. How many of us would haved wished for more time to "check my emails in the morning", "write more memos" or even "watch TV". Beyond culture, gender and generation, universally we will talk of more time for loved ones and more time for doing what we are truly passionate about.
The "deathbed test" highlights what's important in our lives. Yet, why is it that we spend so much time doing anything but, when this is our only shot at living?
Thanks for reading... I'm new to this so would appreciate your honest appraisal