Think about the last day of your life. It may be today or tomorrow or some time ahead. As you face your death, would you be satisfied with what you’ve done, who you are and what you’ve been or will you go to your grave with a song in your heart that you never got to sing? In short, how would you answer these questions:
- Did I live?
- Did I love?
- Did I matter?
On that last day you’re likely to be faced with two things:
- You’ll be more upset what you didn’t do that what you did. Thing about it. Will you wish you had spent more time in the office or will you lament the mountains you didn’t climb, the conversations you didn’t have or the causes you didn’t start?
- Of the things you set out to achieve and did, you might ask, “Why did I aspire to do so little and why didn’t I find a way to collaborate with others to make that bigger dream possible?”
What is it that you truly want your life to be about?
- It may be grandiose on the world stage, maybe ending world hunger, creating a new invention that improves the quality of people’s lives, or the industrialised abuse of animals.
- Maybe you want to change your own family’s dynamics so that your children don’t continue the legacy of the problems you inherited.
- Or, like the Australian marathon runner, Janette Murray-Wakelin, you search for a cure for the cancer you’ve been diagnosed with because you made a promise to your grandson that you would always be there for him.
The Privilege of Being a Psychologist
I find myself in a privileged position. As a psychologist, I have heard the personal stories of 1000s of people around the globe who struggle to make sense of what this world is really all about for them. They all want their lives, work and relationships to mean something and all of them want to truly live, truly love and truly matter.
On 11th March 2017, I was the Keynote Speaker at the Sydney Gala Premier of Raw: The Documentary and this article arose from the speech I gave that night. The guests at that event were tremendously inspired by the world-breaking record set by two extraordinary Australians, both of them in their sixties. In my speech, I implored them to look at their own lives and remain open-minded enough to consider the implications the marathon runners ‘achievement in the context of their own lives and ask, ‘What else is possible?” This article outlines some of the challenges I presented to those people on the night of that Premier.
Singing Your Own Song
Why do so many of us go to our graves with songs in our hearts we never get to sing? I believe it’s because we buy into the personal, familial, social, religious and cultural myths and limitations that keep us from living on purpose. Instead, we live very conformist lives or as the philosophy and writer Thoreaux once said, we live “Lives of Quiet Desperation”. When those myths and unquestioned assumptions of what IS possible are challenged, each of us is faced with two broad choices.
- Make Excuses For Why We Can’t Achieve Things.
You can lament that your own circumstances are different, saying, “I am not rich enough, young enough, educated enough or connected enough”. You can say you left it too late or didn’t have a good start in life so you continue through life making the excuse that you’re not good enough.
- Embrace Record-Breaking Achievement as Inspiration To Act.
You can become excited by new evidence that someone out there has broken all records and demonstrated that it’s possible to get outcomes that others believe isn’t possible. You can say to the yourself and the world, “I WILL make my dream possible and do whatever it takes to break records”.
Evidence that the Impossible is Possible.
Let me give you some inspiring examples of where the impossible was embraced and outcomes achieved that previously people believed were impossible.
- Breaking the World Record for Distance Running.
The 4-minute mile for distance running was once thought impossible but in 1954 it became a reality. Not only was it broken but subsequently so many people achieved it this that it has become the standard for male professional middle distance runners. What was deemed ‘impossible’ is now a ‘standard expectation’.
- Achievements that Medical Science Deemed Impossible.
The Dutchman Wim Hof, nicknamed ‘The Ice Man’ holds 26 world records including the world record for the longest ice bath. Wim Hoff sat for 1 hour 12 mins in a bath of ice without his core body temperature falling. This defied all medical science, yet he proved that it could be done.
- Record Number of Full Marathons Run Consecutively in One Year.
In 2009, the world record for the greatest number of full marathons run consecutively in one year was fifty-two. It rose steadily over several decades, and although unclear as to the exact number achieved because of record-keeping and the Guinness Book of Records not unable to monitor claims by runners, it rose to over two hundred. Then in 2013, a staggering figure was reached. Three hundred and sixty-six full consecutive marathons were run by Jeanette and Alan Murray-Wakelin, a couple from Melbourne, Australia.
Raw: The Documentary premiered in March 2017 charted their journey running around Australia and celebrates this phenomenal world first. In my keynote speech at that event that I asked the audience to consider what this achievement meant for them in relation to their own lives. I implore you to do the same as you consider what this Australian couple did.
An Existential Imperative
Janette and Alan’s achievement is SO mind-blowing that it’s almost impossible to digest and yet you, like the audience on the night, you have a choice of how to respond. Choose to be inspired not only by their achievement but the existential imperative its message offers, to ensure you sing your own song and make your impossible, possible.
I have chosen to believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that we can create a more compassionate world not only for people but animals and the environment we share it with.
This is my personal dream that some would say is impossible. I refuse to believe that. Every day I act to manifest a more compassionate reality and I have chosen to do this in a number of ways:
- Create a context for the integration of ethical leadership principles in business practices so principles come before profits.
- Teach people to have the conversations that matter (with themselves and others). Together with the mindset to reach for the impossible, people can learn to truly create lives that matter and which, in turn, positively impact others.
- My personal big impossible vision is to become part of a rising tide of social awareness that there is a better way to treat animals, particularly those caught in the abusive process of industrial production. Few people know that every year, a mere seven billion of us on the planet incarcerate, abuse, torture, rape, kill and tantalise one hundred and fifty billion animals. This number is difficult to digest for we ask, “Where is all this going on?” The vast majority of abuse takes place in an industrial system of which intensive factory farming and commercialisation of animals occurs. It is horrendously miserable for animals but people and the planet also suffer in the process. And all of it is totally unnecessary and is causing the destruction of our planet and moral fibre.
It’s stories like those portrayed in RAW – The Documentary, that inspire me to ensure I stay on track with my dreams so that at the end of my life I can turn within and say, “I truly lived”, I” truly loved”, “I truly mattered and it made a positive difference beyond my own existence”.
I invite you as the reader to do the same.
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If you feel there are reasons you can’t achieve what you truly desire, you might start by examining the extent to which societal myths and unquestioned assumptions limit you expanding your mind to seek ways to achieve it.
DOWNLOAD your free digital copy of The Myths of Life and the Choices We Have to further explore the unquestioned social, personal and cultural assumptions that keep you trapped in the “Shoulds, Oughts and Musts” of life. By identifying the myths against which you make choices, you will expand your options and take the steps to improve your life.