I read something chilling the other day. Do you know the most common regret that people have, at the end of their life? Here it is: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”. Here is the link to the article: http://addicted2success.com/success-advice/the-top-5-regrets-in-life-by-those-about-to-die/
Ponder the gravity of that regret for a moment. This is the number one regret of all. It’s regret about unfulfilled dreams. Think about it. How many of us really, honestly, truthfully live a life that is true to who we really are?
All through our lives, we’re supposed to conform to what our parents think we should do with our lives, with what our school expects as normative behaviour, to the demands of commerce, which requires compliant, interchangeable, featureless, obedient workers. We self-censor amongst friends and acquaintances, afraid to ruin our life-chances of climbing the greasy pole. One misstep and it could all be over – for good. We sacrifice ourselves to the goal of acceptance and acceptability. Corporate cultures require us to be laser-aligned with their corporate goals, with any deviation or disagreement seen as subversive dissent, capable of bringing the entire edifice down, if left unpunished.
What happens if you work for a corporation, but you also happen to be passionate about making music? This happened to Tom Scholz, now famous as the founder of the rock band Boston. He could have simply conformed and remained at Polaroid, as an engineer, pretending his music was just a passing fad, a folly, something he did as a hobby, but not seriously. Instead, he made his records in his basement and lived a life that was true to himself. It turned out that, as passionate as he was about music, he was also a passionate engineer. Tom Scholz created many guitar effects and recording devices, while making his records. The point was, he didn’t suppress one passion for the other. I can identify with him.
I remember I had a girlfriend in high school that was happy enough to come to the gigs I played, in the school hall, but who had it in mind that her “project” would be to wean me off this crazy guitar playing obsession of mine and get me to spend more time on “serious” pursuits (like admiring her, for example). Needless to say, the guitars are still a part of my life, but this girl is not. She wasn’t acting out of malice. She was programmed to act that way by her environment and her upbringing.
Guitar playing and music was frowned upon, in our house, as not being worthy of dedicated pursuit. It certainly wasn’t entertained as a serious career. My band mate still makes his living from guitar playing, some forty years on. The bass player in that band still deals in musical equipment and mixes with professional musicians every day, having been a musical equipment design engineer as well.
Why do companies suppress the colourful and the diverse? Have you ever seen a corporate, cubicle-filled, battery office with one lone workspace bedecked in rainbow colours, or handicrafts and personal objects? Very unlikely, isn’t it? Are we to believe, in all seriousness, that not one of the thousands of employees of such a company would prefer their cube to look that way, rather than grey or beige? Such distinctions are seen as breaking away from the ranks and threatening the viability of the team. Team players accept colourless, featureless working environments, it seems. To me, this is nothing less than brutal suppression of the imaginative. Why is that not a prejudice? Why is it not illegal to suppress this minority?
All corporate cultures require innovation to prosper and survive. Innovation, in turn, requires imagination and inspiration. Those things come from all kinds of places, like the environment you’re in, how comfortable and at ease you feel in it, how encouraged you are to be different and how willing people around you are to entertain seemingly insane ideas, at least until the details can be worked out and the idea proven. We all know that most corporate cultures do their level best to eradicate the pre-conditions for innovation. Innovation happens in corporations by bizarre quirk of fate, not by default. It’s madness, really.
Society makes it exceedingly difficult to be true to yourself. It puts up obstacles. It levels sanctions. It attempts to homogenise you and keep you in your place. Yet, what society needs, more than anything, is happy, productive, engaged, passionate, self-motivated and fulfilled people, that are doing their finest work and who have no regrets.
We know the answer. Be courageous. Stand your ground. Be sure about who you are and do not deviate from it for one single second, regardless of your circumstances, the financial peril involved and the overwhelming weight of authority trying to make you into what they want you to be, not what you truly are. Hardly any of us have the strength, resilience, fortitude and stamina to remain exactly who we are. So we compromise and tell ourselves it’s ok, a means to an end, until one day we discover that it really isn’t. That’s very sad.
Fortunately, not long after reading this dire article about the top five regrets of those about to die (number two was regrets about working so hard, that people missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship), another article came to my notice. Here it is: http://www.marcandangel.com/2011/12/11/30-things-to-stop-doing-to-yourself/
Thirty things to stop doing to yourself. I can’t better this advice. Read it. It’s good.