It has been an interesting week. Serendipities about writing and choices.
First, I read Frank Britt’s article about how we write our own life stories and have the ability to change our paths. Then, Anne Mitchell wrote a comment in response, mentioning a Jeff Bezos idea that we are the sum of the choices we make. It reminded me of a conversation with him many years ago.
Then, I picked up a New York Times bestseller, Shaka Senghor’s Writing My Wrongs. A convicted murderer and former drug dealer, Shaka served many years in jail. It was riveting. Anne had heard Shaka speak at the MIT Media Lab and Lab director Joi Ito wrote the book’s forward and how he met Shaka.
Such a small world.
Shaka’s book is about the power of rewriting your life story to find forgiveness and resolve to improve one’s life. He wrote numerous letters in prison, including one to the murder victim’s family.
He also wrote about all of the horrible abuse he experienced as a child and while in prison. He wrote about being in solitary confinement for over four years and the complete madness that overtakes some prisoners in that situation.
Shaka unflinchingly named all of the bad decisions he made. He started to forgive the abusers. All that gave him the resolve to change his life.
And, he most certainly has. Redemption in spades.
His book is important. Please read it.
When my friend Mike Connell told me he was going into hospice, my heart broke. When my mother started receiving palliative care, everything changed.
I know, I know. This is a morbid post. But, bear with me.
Ever since Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos told me about his desire to avoid life regrets, I’ve been trying to find the survey to which he referred. Apparently, there is a survey of the elderly that asked about their greatest accomplishments and regrets. I cannot find it.
There is much below to contemplate. We truly become the sum of our choices.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
I asked: “Why did you quit your hedge fund job, pack up everything you had and move to a new city to start a risky company?”
He replied: “I wanted to minimize life’s regrets. You regret acts of omission, not acts of commission. You regret what you didn’t do rather than what you did do.”
I was early in my hunt for a dream job. I turned down a promotion at Bain & Co. and decided to come clean and quit. I wanted to be a free agent and interview freely.
As I wrote before (here), I found myself being recruited for a job at Amazon.com, reporting to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. As we got to know each other, he asked my why I was giving up a sure thing to pursue something risky. That all led to the dialogue up top.
And, I got to ask Jeff about his radical choice to leave everything behind and start anew. He mentioned that he had read a study that asked nursing home residents about their biggest accomplishments and regrets. The biggest regret? People felt that they too often picked the safe path. They wished they took more risk.
And, Jeff didn’t want to be like that.
I’m reliving all this because Anne Mitchell just commented about my recent post on how we can change our Life Story, and, thereby, change the arc of our lives.
In the comment, Anne included a three-minute video excerpt from a speech Bezos gave at a Princeton graduation. It’s up top, or click here. I love it.
Here is the transcript:
How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years-old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made.
In the end, we are our choices.
So, my dear friends, what will you choose today? Please encourage me to:
- Choose “the road less traveled”
- Care freely for others
- Be authentic always and everywhere
If I have done that, then I will have lived a good life.
I recently have become friendly with Frank Britt. He believes you can write and change your “life story.” I think it is a powerful point of view. He recently wrote about that, and an important career decision, here.
Specifically, Frank decided to leave a very prestigious job to be the CEO of an online education company that empowers people. He really believes in the mission of the company.
Moreover, he adds in an email to me:
The most dangerous narratives are ones that diminish our inherent worthiness; we are seeking to advocate, empower, and enable folks to reclaim the truth and eradicate limiting beliefs about themselves (their pedigree, network, IQ, body, relationships, their privilege, etc). Many of these are what I call disempowering beliefs – they limit your perceived choices. The reality is that the past does not equal the future, and zip code or background is not destiny, and all personal breakthroughs begin with a change in beliefs.
I think it is critical that we all realize that we have the power to choose and alter our perspectives. It often isn’t easy particularly if you’ve had a tough childhood or are in the midst of a streak of bad luck.
As a Board member on many companies, I can promise you that many talented, smart, honest and good looking people feel like frauds. They feel like they’re not worthy. To an outsider, it will look almost absurd. They have “everything,” but on some days seem not to realize it.
I would encourage everyone to think about the story you’re writing about yourself. Is it positive or negative? Is it empowering or discouraging? Are you in charge or a victim?
Change your life story, and I believe that you’ll change your life’s arc.