When I was 13 a schoolmate of mine killed himself. I was appalled at the waste of all that potential life ahead and vowed to be clear on what it would take for me to feel that I had made the most of my own life before I died. I decided that in order to feel fulfilled I would need to travel, have many love affairs and become a mother. By age 25 I had done that.
At a later point in my life I said to myself that what I wanted was Fame and Fortune and set about defining that. Herb Caen wrote a popular daily column in the San Francisco Chronicle that mentioned many people’s daily doings and clever quips. Your name in his column that “everyone” read would certainly constitute fame where I lived. I submitted several amusing observations and one of them appeared there within the week with attribution to me. Then I refinanced my house, which gave me some disposable income. Voila, Fame and Fortune!
You know that song that Peggy Lee made famous – “Is That All There Is?” I’m convinced the reason that so many celebrities self-destruct with drugs or liquor when they appear to everyone else to have it all is that same “is that all there is?” syndrome. They worked very hard (or they lucked out) and became a movie star or a best-selling author or a sports idol, or became famous simply for being famous like the Kardashian sisters, and it failed to make them happy. In fact, he or she is so unhappy that quickly or slowly they destroy themselves. If what one really wants is to be loved by Mommy or feel worthy of all they have achieving fame just won’t do it. Their disappointment and misery might have been avoided by defining clearly their individual terms for “happiness” or “success”.
Many people complain that they don’t know what they want. To that my mentor, Robert Cromey, would respond “So if you did know, what would it be?” Oddly, sometimes that elicits an answer.
There is an exercise from the Human Potential movement that consists of two people facing one another with one of them asking the other “what do you want?” and, receiving an answer, repeats the question. After many repetitions of being asked “what do you want?” almost everyone comes down to some really essential life quest such as wanting to feel loved by a particular individual.
Since no one can make another person love them, least of all someone long gone from their life, what’s to be done? Are they doomed to misery in the end?
I think that to achieve satisfaction in any particular situation, let alone in life itself, it is essential to know as precisely as possible what it is you want, nothing vague like “happiness” but as specific as possible such as “a sense that I have contributed something to another’s life”. And if what you need in order to be happy just isn’t possible such as wanting to be 3 inches taller or to have said goodbye to a now dead loved one, then what?
Each of us needs a Plan B: “Since I can’t go back and redo my relationship with X I can resolve to be clear and caring in all my important relationships from now on.” Is that always possible? Probably not. However, if you keep in your consciousness that which will define a good life for you it is much more likely that you will feel a sense of completion at the end of your life rather than go out of the world humming “Is that all there is”?