I was twenty-nine and about to enter my second mid-life crisis, (the first one was at twenty-one – but that’s another story). As I took stock of my life I knew I was free-falling into the stereotypical void of meaninglessness. My world was focused on making money and projecting the right image.
At the time I was working in the finance industry as a finance broker; it left a lot to be desired in the soul side of life. While I enjoyed the benefits of decent pay, and a closet full of great shoes, it didn’t fill much in the fulfillment soles. (Ya see what I did there?)
How things looked was a top priority for the industry goals. It was fairly regularly preached that the need to look successful was imperative. The required image included job title, personal appearance, home, and contacts.
I remember one well-meaning colleague seriously imploring me to buy a car that was, at a minimum, the oldest model of a Mercedes that I could afford rather than a brand new Toyota. That was far more conducive to achieving that highly desired image. Pointing out the obvious differences in comfort levels for me netted a baleful stare of incredulous disbelief in my sanity. That was pretty much as deep as life was.
It was about that time that I really started to question the point of life and my purpose within it. Not long after, I came across a magazine article that lit an inner spark. Considering the importance it was to play in my life, I can’t believe the title escapes me. Anyway, it was about the question, the one that literally began the turn-over of my life:
“When you die, what do you want people to say about you at the service”?
I sat back and sifted through all the tributes I could remember. The ones that I recalled most were those folks who were spoken about with great respect and even reverence for what they gave to the world, and the grace with which they lived. That’s how I wanted to be remembered too.
Then the next sentence simply said, “Now go make those words real”.
It gave me immediate focus. What I at least realized then, was that what I wanted to be became less important than what kind of person did I want to be. It was a general goal, but it offered seemingly thousands of possibilities. A huge weight of dejection was replaced with a huge light of hope.
It led me to know that I had finally found my soul, but I was in an industry that didn’t have one. I knew it would soon be time to move on. My questions of how were answered as my perception and approaches evolved. Many opportunities came my way as a result.
My eventual path started, and startled, with a variety of unexpected voluntary roles from ambulance attendant (never saw that coming), to board director for policing support. I got the chance to write for pay, and eventually, ran a fundraising foundation for a regional cancer research and treatment centre (worst job ever, but that’s another story).
The point is that it doesn’t matter where you start from, you only need to change how you see things. Look inward and around at what you have at hand. Be thankful for at least that much, then look for ways that it can be used to help someone or something else – especially at those times when you feel least able. I can only ask you to trust me on that, but it would be more useful for you to try it once or twice.
I’ve seen it start out in simple ways like the guy finally able to say the words, “I was wrong”, and another who started a food bank drive at the company she worked for.
I can see it being things like starting a business or charity to help whatever need in your heart, or a finance industry that encourages genuine savings by offering genuinely decent saving account interest rates. It’s never too late to change direction, after all, all it is, is changing your mind about what you need.
How do we want to be remembered? The advice was simple, on the face of it, but the results took me to wondrous places that I had no idea I wanted to be. It’s a bit scary for me to try to imagine now what my world might have been if I hadn’t had that magazine intervention.
One last word on this advice, a meaningful life isn’t perfect either – far from it. The only perfect expectation is embracing the knowledge that our best work is about giving the best we have at the moment.
So think about your end for a bit, and then go live up to your service. Works for me so far. Usually.
Written in reply to the WordPress weekly writing challenge: What’s the best, or worst, piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?