I recently met an old friend for a drink. We’ve known each other since we were 11 years old. We were both traveling abroad and our life paths intersected for an hour in the same small town. It was a wonderful conversation. There is something about having a limited amount of time that gets you down to the deepest issues.
My friend has been successful in both achieving mastery in his craft and in fulfilling his life’s task (both pursuits are examined brilliantly in Mastery, Robert Greene’s newest book). He does creative work in his chosen field, travels the globe, receives applause, recognition, and VIP treatment wherever he goes, collaborates with great professionals, and is paid well to do so. Like all of us, however, he has regrets and fears to contend with.
At one point in the conversation, he looked at me and shared as if we were in a confessional, “Jordi, what I have missed the most in my life can be summed up in one word: Family.” My friend expressed that any sense of a stable nuclear family seemed impossible to establish because he was perpetually on the road. Despite his best efforts to maintain a close relationship with his child, parents, and siblings, he felt as if he had underperformed in this area of his life. I know my friend as a dedicated father, son, brother, and friend, but I could empathize with his regret.
He continued by describing something else that was bothering him of late. He was now dealing with a fear of his own mortality in a way that he had never felt before. He saw friends of all ages around him that are losing their health and/or their lives, sometimes very suddenly and surprisingly. I certainly recognized that fear in my own now older self. My friend worried that, if he were to lose his health, he might end up pretty alone. He sensed that the applause, recognition, success and wonderful work could not get him the support of family and close friends that one needs when health and life are hanging on a string.
In the time we were together, I tried to listen well and be as encouraging as I could. I did not offer any great solutions in the moment, but I think he appreciated having an old friend to vent with. We warmly parted ways as he was called away by his handlers to the next meeting. Until next time amigo.
My buddy and I were on different paths once again, but his questions and concerns stayed with me. I turned to my writing to try to respond to the issues that I had inadequately addressed while we were together. Here is my delayed, and unsolicited, advice.
On the challenge of maintaining family and friends while living a life of global travel:
“My brother, what you have achieved is amazing. I have known you since we were a child, and it is clear that this traveling, creative life is your calling. Through your talents and years of effort to achieve mastery in your field, you are paid well to build your life’s work. Don’t look back with regret at what could or might have been! By the same token, the areas you want to reinforce are essential for a sense of well being in my experience. An investment in relationships with family and friends is just as important as the cultivation of one’s mental, physical, spiritual, and financial health. I strive to do my life’s work in balance with these areas to create a “rhythm of living” that is sustainable and enjoyable. Make it a priority each day to invest time in those family and friend relationships just as we all should do with exercise or reading. Some days life will knock you off the track, but the sun will rise the next morning and you can get right back on the balanced path.”
On health and mortality:
“Oh how I understand you my friend! Fear of sickness and death has robbed me of so many moments as I have gotten older, moments which could have been put to much better use. Let me share with you a lesson I learned from The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, a wonderful book of practical philosophy by Ryan Holiday. Holiday uses inspiring real life stories to encourage us to embrace the obstacles in our lives as opportunities for real growth. Death and sickness are tremendous obstacles yet they can be wonderful catalysts for action and a change of perspective. Holiday writes:
“In the shadow of death, prioritization is easier…Everything falls in its proper place and perspective. Why would you do the wrong thing? Why feel fear? Why let yourself and others down? Life will be over soon enough; death chides us that we may as well do life right.”
So my friend let’s eat right, exercise, get regular checkups, brush, floss, and get good sleep, but let us also use our frailty and our mortality as a gift to live each day well. Let’s be fully in the moment. Let’s grow. Let’s love. Let’s give back more.”