Long one today! Waxing a bit poetic.
I’ve seen this article posted a few places and since it inspired me to think about my life, specifically the work-life balance (or lack thereof) within. Since I just wrote a huge POV on Pinterest for my agency, I didn’t feel like writing a marketing article today- and I’ve been looking for a good reason to write a more personal piece (I always get a little misty around my birthday- I turned 36 on February 4th) than normal. Since I’ve seen this article so much over the past month, it seems like a real good candidate for some exposition on life. An Australian palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware- who basically gets paid to take care of people in their last weeks of life before certain death- has cataloged some of the dying’s most common regrets into the following list:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I’ll take them each individually.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I seriously wonder sometimes why I work so hard and who I’m trying to impress. Men in particular I think tend to follow the roles that society proscribes for them, which means being a good provider and solid husband and father. I’m not sure where this comes from for everyone else- in my case, it come from a very strict religious indoctrination in my youth, as well as being poor- I grew up with 3 brothers in a town my family couldn’t afford to live in, and my first motivation for work continues to be a very strong motivation even today- I got a job carrying golf clubs at the Country Club of Detroit at the age of 14, because I knew when I turned 16 I was going to want a car, and my parents would never be able to buy it for me. I continued working throughout high school (to pay for the apartment I moved in to at 17) and college (to eat). I graduated from MSU in 1999 without even knowing what I was going to do with what I’d constantly been told was a worthless Communications degree. I started out in hotel sales, working from home (not a good idea for a kid right out of college, let me tell you) and I utterly hated it. I then heard about a pilot program for emergency credentials within the Detroit Public School system and jumped at the chance. My mom is a teacher and makes really, really good money, has a strong union, and great benefits. So I figured it was a good career choice, and even sunk 16k into getting a Master’s Degree that now I’m told hampers my ability to get hired, because people will think I want too much money. Point being, I went into teaching for the wrong reason and motivations, as evidenced by the fact that 13 years later I’m back in the private sector.
I also went to college because I grew up hearing that you HAD to, because 95% of the kids in my home town did, and I just always thought it was the path to success. 6 years’ schoolwork and 58k later, I’m not convinced. My friends who skipped college and went to work right away have more money, own their homes, and are generally on more solid career paths than those of us that went to school as we’d been told was necessary. Given the choice again, I would skip college, and I’m not presenting it as an absolute to my daughter, either.
I wish I’d had the foresight to buck the trend and follow what I wanted to do at the time because now the choices I’ve made mean I am highly unlikely to be a struggling author, couch surfing my way across the country while writing the Great American Novel. I know, it sounds stupid and silly and impractical and romantic but if I could go back to my 17-year-old self, I might tell myself not to be in such a hurry to grow up and be an adult.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This one is closely related to the first. I work in an industry where I am required to be plugged into the Internet, an amalgamation of the attention of everyone on the planet for a good part of my day. Many is the time when I sit down at home to spend some recreation time playing a video game, opening Google Analytics to look at one thing for a client site and then I find myself buried in a spreadsheet 2 hours later. I have G+, Facebook, Google Reader and Twitter tabs open at work all day. I answer email on my phone before I get out of bed. I answer email on my computer before I get to work. I answer email on my phone when traffic is jammed or I’m at a red light. I check email at work all day from my PC and I carry my phone into meetings so I can see messages the minute they come in. Then I go home, and do email for another half hour. After a quick break for dinner and my kiddo’s bath, it’s usually right back to email, or RSS feeds, or some other kind of work-related activity. Point is; I work. I work a lot.
I was speaking with a co worker the other day about a desire of mine that creeps up from time to time- the desire to say “screw it”, quit my job and move my family into a double-wide in Mississippi, where I’d spend my nights stocking shelves at the Piggly Wiggly and my days home schooling my daughter while we fished or just lazed about, blissful in our ignorance of HTML5 and the iPad 3 and 120Hz TVs and Ultraviolet and Pinterest and any of the ten million other things Internet marketers and digital citizens (are we still using “Netizens”?) are paid to stay on top of. There’s something really romantic about the idea of just checking out, telling society that advancing the human endeavor is none of my business, and simply serving my own ends. I can’t do that because I like living in a nice safe community with good schools, the convenience of two automobiles, high speed Internet, WWE Pay Per Views, Disney Annual Passes…but it’s really, really tempting sometimes to just say “screw it”. You can’t take your money with you, and giving it to your kids will just turn them into terrible Paris Hilton types.
Bottom line- there are so many more important things in life than money. Have you ever noticed that people with a lot of money as a whole, aren’t a whole lot happier than people with it? Money doesn’t solve problems; it just brings about larger problems and can be really destructive. You shouldn’t let money be the sole factor driving your life forward. I guess what I’m saying is, take some time to hug your kid and take some time to waste some time.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Actually, on this one, I can’t really relate. Having been raised by an extremely domineering feminist mother and encouraged to really embrace my emotional side, I have no problem expressing my feelings, in fact, I would almost go the other way and say that I wish I was ABLE to hide my feelings more. Everyone around me knows what kind of mood I’m in because I wear my heart on my sleeve- I guess I just never bought into that aspect of manliness, that hiding your feelings is somehow more noble than being in touch with them. It’s also been a hindrance in business for me as I have a tendency to be “too honest”- though I’m not really too sure exactly what that means.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I’ve never been the type to keep a large group of friends; I fancy myself an introvert and as such don’t really get off on the dopamine rush from interacting with a large group of people. Give me a video game and some time alone to play it over a crowded Oonce Oonce Oonce bar any day. I’ve always been able to get along with anyone, but I’ve usually had about 3 friends that I would basically lay down in front of a train for, and they for me- hey, I still only have about 80 friends on Facebook due to my extreme privacy there and my policy of only Friending people that I know in real life. That being said, there are a lot of people that I have come to know over the course of my life that I haven’t stayed in touch with for whatever reason, and while social media makes that really easy, I think it’s important to meet up in person with old friends and just remind yourself why you became friends with them in the first place- it’s good for the soul. As a matter of fact, I will be seeing a friend from college that I haven’t seen in 13 years at the end of February, and writing this post has inspired me to reach out to my friend Ian, who lives in Singapore and was best man at my wedding but I haven’t spoken to since. I know that we’ll be thick as thieves after 5 minutes back in touch, but it is important to nurture relationships with like minded people- it feeds the soul. Friends are there for you in a way that family can’t be and work never will be.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is surprisingly difficult to achieve, and I feel like the more information I’m exposed to, the more I learn about the world and the way it works, the harder it is to be happy. I also find that the fleeting moments of happiness (time spent with family and friends, time spent on hobbies, time spent in the pursuit of no endeavor in particular) taken over to an extent by outside thoughts creeping in. This manifests itself lots of ways- going upstairs immediately after my hour-long commute to check email, checking on client initiatives from my smart phone while on line at Disneyland, or as I mentioned before, work inserting itself into what’s supposed to be personal time. Happiness is something you actually have to work at, and I’d like to share a technique here that has really helped me, called Positive Mental Time Travel (from http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/09/4-life-savouring-strategies-which-ones-work-best.php). This is the practice of using that idle thought time to think back to happier times, or ahead to anticipated happier times.
I have what I would call a sort of ailment, I’m not sure if it’s in the DSM5 or anything, but basically, my brain is like a hamster on a wheel. When something negative gets in there, I just focus on it like a laser and think about it over and over and over until it feeds on itself and before you know it I’m up at 3 AM worrying about something that I cannot possibly affect until 8 AM. This is extremely poisonous and the way I’ve been countering it is to make sure that I have something to look forward to- Date Night on Tuesday, Guild Night on Wednesday, the monthly WWE PPV, an upcoming vacation- I strongly recommend “having something to look forward to” as a mental health strategy. It will help you be happier. Also, make sure you take note of the little things that make you happy- are you getting worked up every work due to the news? Listen to music instead! Feel like a sloth because you sit at a desk 8 hours a day? Take a walk! The point is, you have to work at being happy, it doesn’t just happen.
How about you? Now that I’ve poured my heart out here, do you have any regrets, or have you had any? Have you made any positive changes, or do you have a coping strategy to help like my positive mental time travel strategy?