“John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change. If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It’s the only thing you can count on. Because life doesn’t have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change”
– Robert Rauschenberg
It is alarming, even disturbing to me how many adults I encounter who either cannot or will not face up to the reality of their own mortality. I recently asked a group of adults to reflect on this, in service of gaining clarity about the leader they want to be, by asking them how they would like to be remembered. It didn’t go over well. This is not a great conversation starter.
Leaders who are well equipped for change operate with the confidence and clarity that comes from having perspective. That perspective, put simply, is this: everything is finite. Everything changes. Everything ends.
We are creatures of the natural world – all the electronic trappings and conveniences aside – organic beings with an opportunity to distinguish ourselves unlike any other organic beings with whom we share our tiny planet. But, we are organic just the same and, as such, destined to complete the cycle. The only question we have to face, those of us lucky enough to live in circumstances that allow us to do so – clean water, food, energy, services, employment – is how we want it to go. We don’t have to face that question, of course. Many, many people choose not to, blessed with circumstances and opportunities millions (billions?) don’t have they are ambivalent about their own existence and just bob along through life moving to the inevitability of its end. But, since this is a blog for leaders, influencers and agents of change I choose not to get lost down the rabbit hole of that particular tragedy.
As I get ready to complete my 44th year a couple of weeks from now I recognize with some ambitious calculation that I am at the halfway point of my life. (Since the “average” American male can expect to live to age 77 it is generous for me to consider myself at the mid-point. Just for fun – and because I’m in no hurry – I’m considering this optimistically and giving myself credit for a decently healthy lifestyle and good longevity in the gene pool, at least on my mom’s side. If I am fortunate enough to avoid a fatal disease or a tragic accident, maybe, just maybe I can make it to age 88; another 44 years of quality [?!] life.)
Here’s what I believe will sustain me in LIVING the next 44 years well AND in full awareness of the 100% certainty of it coming to an end. Maybe it will work for you, too.
1. My vocation: I’m doing the work I am supposed to do and from here on out I will creatively explore the limits of my potential in living into that work as fully as I can.
2. The sustaining power of family, friendship and community matters more to me now than ever before. I am learning at a foundational level, despite my well-worn tendency to “go it alone,” that there are many, many people who support, embrace and encourage my journey. I am both indebted to their generosity and committed to reciprocating as best I can.
3. Clear values and purpose: There is nothing that has impacted the trajectory of my life more positively than getting clear about what I stand for, getting clear about the purposeful intention of my life and then experiencing the daily challenge of living into and up to it. It is both humbling and invigorating and I am grateful for those who helped me figure it out.
Our shared inevitable truth is that, yes, we are going to die. Until then, how will we choose to live?