I spent last weekend training in existential coaching—learning more about how to help answer the profound and often confusing questions so many of us have about life: Why am I here? What does it all mean? Life is so short, what’s the point in striving? How can I live a more fulfilling, purposeful life? What should I have for dinner? Big stuff, you know.
The truth is, most people don’t want to find or know the answers. Most people would rather drown it all out with TV and scrolling through shit on social media and conversations about the weather and what Kim Kardashian wore or didn’t wear and moaning about what everyone else is doing and how the world is a bad place, all from the comfort of their sofa. And then they wonder why their lives feel kind of empty and boring, or why they’re drinking at least a half bottle of wine every night or stuffing their face with food they intelligently know is bad for their body or why they keep on turning up each day to a job that provides them with nothing much, other than a wad of money to buy, buy, buy things they don’t even need.
They do all of these things, of course, to feel full and content—a momentary reprieve from the awareness, deep deep down, that they’re not really fully living. That they’re bumbling along, going through the motions of life; you know, with the career and the mortgage and the marriage and the holidays somewhere hot and sunny twice a year, and yet really, they’re kind of trapped on a treadmill that they’re too scared to get off. Scared, because they don’t know what will happen or what’s out there beyond the same 4 walls and routine of their life as they know it.
And we all do it, to some extent.
We’ve become a culture of humans who cannot switch off—conditioned to keep on going, keep on doing, more, more, more, check your phone every 5 minutes, talk, talk, talk, do, do, do, work, work, work—and if you’re not working—THEN DO SOMETHING ELSE BUT STAY BUSY, FOR FUCKS SAKE.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
On the course this weekend, we discussed what it actually means when someone replies, “I’m good” to our “How are you?” What is ‘good?’ What does “good” even mean? Why do we feel uncomfortable telling the truth? I mean, it’s hardly a conversation starter, is it?
“What have you been up to recently?”
“Oh, you know, just questioning my entire existence and pondering how I’m actually contributing to the world in a meaningful way. You?”
And yet these questions about our existence and contribution and meaning are normal. And human. We all have them. To live a full, content life in all its complicated, twisted, beautiful, often cruel and joyful wildness, is to ask the questions you’re probably always avoiding asking. Questions that make you think; about what you actually want—and need—from your life on a deeper level than needing things. Questions about why you do the things that you do and what you stand for and how you’d like to be remembered.
One of my very, very first clients died recently. She must have been in her fifties. We kept in touch sporadically for years after we stopped working together. Sometimes I’d see her in the street when I was still living in London and we’d have a quick catch up about our lives and what we’d been up to. I hadn’t heard from her in a while when she emailed me about something I had written. It was this article. She wrote, “Some great ideas re the 10 minutes. I wanted to write a history of my life in case it’s needed for my funeral—sorry I hope that does not shock you—but I have accepted that my cancer is not curable and that I may have six months or I may have 5 years, it’s all a lottery at the moment.” I wrote back to her and told her that I wasn’t so much shocked as incredibly sad, and that I’d cried and cried and cried as I read her email. I remember exactly where I was stood in my kitchen, phone in hand, looking at the screen reading her words and crying, remembering the times we had sat in her living room; me a nervous young-buck coach hoping I didn’t screw up, her trying to figure out some big things in life, and now….she was dying.
I wanted to ask her what it’s like to know that you’re dying, to be so stoically planning your own funeral, to be intentionally and very consciously writing a story about your life that will be read out one day by someone to an audience of people who loved and cared for you. But I was too afraid to ask. It felt too prying, too impolite, too brash. I wish I had now. She was the kind of person who would have answered truthfully and beautifully and yet I also know that had I asked her, she would have told me what I think I already know. That knowing you’re dying is viscerally awful and terrifying and tragic and and yet it’s also beautiful and raw and kind of weirdly calming and liberating.
The reason I think I already know this is because I am dying. You are too.
“It’s all a lottery at the moment.” It is. Whether it’s six months or five years or 50 years or just 1 day, we’re all dying. It’s a fact. It’s something we can be absolutely 100% certain about. And yet it’s this absolute certainty that brings with it such massive, crippling uncertainty, because we don’t know how long we’ve got left. And for the most of us, it’s this uncertainty about something so certain that leads us to shove our head in the sand, or the feed of our Facebook, or hours and hours of Netflix boxsets or the end of a bottle of wine. We’re tuned out. And it’s nice in a way, isn’t it? It’s comforting. Because when we’re more interested in the drama-rama of Eastenders or judging the neighbour’s weird curtains or endlessly worrying about shit that’s not even worth worrying about, we don’t have to pay any attention to what’s really going on inside. We don’t have to listen to that aching feeling in our gut that we want to do something more with our life—and the clock is ticking and ticking and ticking—but we just keep going around and around, not sure what to do or where to start.
I’m not afraid of dying. Well, that’s not totally true. I am a bit scared. But mostly I’m not. Because I know I’m living a well-lived life. I am extremely content and fulfilled. I know I’m contributing. I know I’m making a difference in the tiniest of ways but making a difference all the same, no matter how cheesy and cliche it sounds. I mostly make choices that value my emotional and physical health over stupid shit I want in the moment. I make changes and challenge myself even when I’m scared, because it’s good for me, it’s how I evolve and grow. I make an effort to stay conscious. To stay awake in a world that’s constantly screaming at me to nod off and numb out, to over-consume, to cure my not enough-mess by buying their miracle product that’ll make my life shiny and oh-so ok on the outside and perfect.
Fuck perfect. Perfect lives are for scared people. People who are terrified of being judged and seen as anything other than a-ok.
No-one is a-ok. Life doesn’t work like that, you know? It’s hard and challenging and full-on and overwhelming and brilliant and free and wonderful, all at the same time.
A line from my all-time favourite piece of poetry, ‘The Summer Day’ by Mary Oliver goes like this, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The truth for most people? They can’t answer that question. They don’t know. So they just watch cat videos on YouTube instead.
It’s a massive fucking shame.
Over and out,
p.s. If you read this and thought it was all a bit too full-on, I totally understand. Here’s a cat video to watch. You’re welcome.
p.s.2 If you read this and thought “Heck yes! I do want to do more with my one wild and precious life, but how?” I’ve got a 6-week group coaching course coming up soon, and I guarantee that it’ll help you figure this out. Expect to have light bulb moments, left, right and centre. Expect to get closer to knowing what’s truly possible in your life. (I’ll give you a clue: There’s A LOT that’s possible). Want in? Head over here and book your place.
Don’t um and ahhhh, and do that “Oh, I’ll wait and see” thing you always do.
That shit is tiring.
Just say YES. To the group coaching course.
And to your life.