(Title: David Bowie)
In 1999, my friend Bill was working in a lucrative field, drove a nice car, and lived in a lovely Seattle Belltown condo. But, his job no longer held his rapt attention. Then, along came a new boss, which was the final straw; Bill quit. He sold the condo, moved some things into storage (which he eventually got rid of altogether), became a flight attendant, earning something like one-third the pay, and evolved into a global nomad.
In 1999, I was six years out of law school, in year four of the practice of law. Even then, at such an early stage in my career, Bill’s decision planted a seed that germinated in me. Looking back on it now, I see how it truly affected me, profoundly. By his actions, Bill was saying that he valued experiences and excitement over boredom. He chose living life over money. He gave up a good amount of security because he was not satisfied, and he refused to be resigned to another 20-plus years of work he no longer enjoyed. I told everyone what Bill had done and how proud I was of him; he was my hero.
Sixteen years later, I was in my office, preparing a client for deposition. She was a retired physician. We immediately “clicked” when we met months before – a soul sister. I admired her immensely. During a lull in my spiel about how to be an effective witness, she asked, “Is everything okay?” (When it comes to my emotions, I have never had much of a poker face.)
I replied that my health had taken a downturn, and the stress of the job was a major contributing factor. I told her, “To be honest, what I really want to do is quit working, sell everything, hop into an RV, and travel the country.”
She looked at me, focusing her gaze to indicate her high level of earnestness, and asked, “Then why aren’t you doing that?”
Such a simple question. At the time, I thought the answer was complex. As it turns out, and as I later discovered, the answer was pretty simple, too.
She went on, “When I graduated from med school, I couldn’t even see my horizon; it was so far in the future. Even at your age, in my 40’s, the horizon was still far away. Now, I am in my mid 60’s, and my career is over. My horizon is directly in front of me. And, even though I have never been a person who regretted anything, I now find myself regretting the things I did not do, not the things I did.”
Something in my brain tripped, like a computer reboot, right then and there. I FELT it, physically. Of course I had heard and read cautionary tales before this, by those who wished they had lived their lives differently. But there was something about that day, that question, that person asking, that advice, that made all the pieces click into place. As Tony Robbins says, I made the decision long ago. I was simply waiting for the right moment to execute it.
Are there any common threads running through the people whom you view as personal heroes? Perhaps he or she got out of a bad marriage (or stuck it out, and healed one), or went back to school, or took that trip alone, or had children, or started a business, or volunteered to help the helpless, or learned how to paint or play an instrument, or stood up to a bully.
We can all be heroes. When will it be your time to be the hero of your own story?