- Samstag, 16. Juli 2016 09:18
Let’s rewind a couple of years. By the time I was 35, things were going surprisingly well. Not thanks to me. A teenage punk, a twentysomething (terrible) musician, I was more surprised than anyone else to find myself where I was. Yet there I was. I was at the top of my field. I’d written a few books. I was the most popular writer at Harvard Business Review. I gave talks, travelled the world, and helped run one of the world’s largest companies. I was living the dream.
But I’m not really sure it was my dream. We’ll get to to that. First, just imagine me living a dream of tiny success. That’s a life many of us are told to want, right? So there I was, living it.
And then I got sick. Really sick. One day, I just stopped being able to eat. Terrible pain would knife through me. So I waited to get better. But I didn’t. After a month of losing a pound a day, I was down to a spoonful or two of baby food a meal (I highly recommend Grandma’s Sunday Lunch).
I finally went to the doctor. He ran some tests, and said, “I’m very sorry, but you’re going to die. Your labs are off the charts. You have lethal, advanced cancer”.
I was dumbstruck, numb. I got a second opinion. Same as the first. I was healthy, young, vital. How could this be! Maybe it was fate, karma, or just dumb misfortune. I was going to die the very moment that I’d finally touched the sky. The irony, right?
A dream is a cause that sets your heart on fire. So bright that it becomes a lighthouse. Which leads all who follow it to the effect of fulfillment — including, but not just, you.
That is the first — and last — principle of dreaming well.
Well dreamt dreams awaken us. To our true selves. Badly dreamt dreams imprison us. In what we should and must never become. Our false selves, crying out to us that they are all we truly are.
“Why am I here?”
To satisfy my craving, and to gratify my impulses! Cries the false self, composed of ego, shadow, and mind. And so it never learns to dream. Great, beautiful, noble, and true. That leads it, and all who follow it, to fulfillment. The dreamer never awakens.
“Why am I here?”
To awaken my true self. The self that is capable of knowing, feeling, wondering, imagining, suffering, rebelling. Of dreaming. A great, noble, beautiful, and true dream. Which leads it, and all who follow it, to fulfillment.
The false self quiets. The sleeper stirs.
The dreamer has awakened.
So there I was. At the peak of my career, about to die. I flew home to be with my parents. They felt panicked, afraid, inconsolable. And so did I.
Then something strange happened. I didn’t die. I didn’t get well. I just stayed sick, living on little dabs of baby food. The doctors were mystified. They didn’t know why I wasn’t dying. They said: “Maybe you don’t have cancer. We don’t know what you have. But you’re still about to die. You definitely don’t have long to live. Maybe a month”.
So that’s how I lived for a few years. I was supposed to, going to, definitely about to die next month. Each month. Not dying, but constantly believing I was about to. That’s strange, right? You might even think: that’s a pretty tough circumstance. To think that you’re going to die every month for years.
But then something even stranger happened. For the first week, maybe, I’d been panicked, depressed, angry, resigned. But then all that vanished like smoke. And I wasn’t any of those. Weirdly, I felt more peaceful, calm, and grateful than I’d ever felt. No, not because I was awaiting heavenly salvation, or because I was sick of life.
Remember when I said: maybe the dream I was living wasn’t really my dream? Now I had some time and space just to think about it. To really evaluate my life. To be still, clear, calm. And think about what a life is.
And you know what?
I was really happy for the first time. I was shocked, too. How could I be about to die, every single month, but finally be happy? There were three good reasons. Because I could look back on what I’d done with a sense of meaning. Because I could just be now, in that moment. Pure, light, effortless. No burden of career, future, success ahead of me. And because, maybe for the first time in my life, I really saw. Whether it was a sunset, or a rose, or a person. I could just really see it. Not try to get it, have it, seize it. And even if that little happiness lasted just a month, maybe that was enough.
And then the strangest thing of all happened. While I was at my sickest, I fell in love in again. I was happy, right? When we’re happy, we’re open. I was open, humble, grateful, and so love found me. But that’s not the strangest thing. The person I fell in love with was the one who instantly knew what had been wrong me all this time. It wasn’t cancer.
It was the light. I have a very rare genetic condition where the light can cause me to go into organ failure. So vanishingly rare that doctors on three continents hadn’t been able to figure it out. The thing that was killing me was the one thing we think of as the source, river, giver of all life. The light. The last think that any of us would probably ever think if we got sick is: the light is killing us, right? That’s why, whenever I felt sick, I went to my favorite place, the park, to relax. In the sun. LOL. No wonder I was at the edge of death for years.
(The condition I have is the foundation of the vampire myth, if you really want to know. Yes, the myths are weirdly actually all true. Too much sun, and my gums recede, my mouth bleeds, I keel over in pain, about to die, and the only thing that fixes it is a bloody steak. My friends kid that since I was a teenage goth, always wearing black, everything makes sense. It’s a joke. But only kind of. Everything did make sense.)
A death sentence, a disease, a curse, turned out to be a mighty gift. The light had broken something. But it had also somehow turned me into me. It hadn’t broken me. It had broken the little shell I called myself. I met the person I loved, rethought my life, saw a truer path, and discovered happiness.
None of that would have ever happened if I hadn’t gotten sick, right?
So there I was. Not dead. More alive. In every way. I hadn’t just survived. I was happier, truer, gentler, wiser. I learned more in those months certain to die but not dying than I had in the thirty five years of struggle and success that had preceded them.
What did I learn? Let me put it this way.
Now, I write about the economy less. That’s easy, and if you really want to know, I can sum it up for you in a sentence (it’s not getting better, because money is flowing in the wrong direction so much that interest rates are negative).
I work with people more. Why? My illness turned out to be a gift, remember? If I can give the gift I received to others, then that’s right, true, and enough.
What do I do with people? I help them live more fulfilling lives. Why? Because that’s exactly what my improbable, winding way taught me. I’ve been through a lot. And not just survived, or thrived. All that’s beside the real point. Which is that I learned a few things along my improbable way. About what it really means to be fully, truly, searingly alive.
This year, I’m expanding my coaching practice. So I hope that if you feel like something’s missing, like you need some direction, guidance, or just a new perspective, that you’ll consider working with me.
Umair Haque is a London-based consultant. He is director of Havas Media Lab, founder of Bubblegeneration and frequent tweeter and contributor to the online Harvard Business Review. Haque’s initial training was in neuroscience. He studied at McGill University in Canada, went on to do an MBA at London Business School and is the author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business