Looking Back on a Lifetime (of Work)
Feb 8, 2024
We're all going to die, one way or another. Some of us will be blessed, or cursed, with the opportunity to look back at our lives. Of course, we don't have to wait until the end of our lives to reflect on them. As a mental exercise, we can transport ourselves to the end of our lives, and look back. I've found it a useful exercise myself, and learning from the perspective and experience of others only helps better focus our review. Two people, whom I've never met, but have helped me greatly in this exercise, are Linds Redding and Jack Thomas.
Both men found themselves with a cancer diagnosis that brought the end of their lives from a vague eventuality to an impending certainty. Their retrospectives, while they couldn't be more different, were equally powerful in helping me gain clarity in what I want for my life, and what I hope will feel fulfilling if and when I have the opportunity to reflect back on it.
Attempting to summarize or paraphrase their words feels like it would be an injustice, cheapening their poignant and thoughtful reflections. Each is short, and in its own way heart wrenching, and I highly encourage you to take the time to reach each of them. Linds looks back on a career in advertising and, if you don't click through and read it all, I'll use a quote to give you the gist of it:
What do I think?
I think you’re all fucking mad. Deranged. So disengaged from reality it’s not even funny. It’s a fucking TV commercial. Nobody gives a shit.
Meanwhile, Jack looks back on his career in journalism. I'll use a quote of his as well:
I had a loving family. I had a great job at the newspaper. I met fascinating people, and I saw myriad worldwide wonders. It’s been full of fun and laughter, too, a really good time.
I just wish I could stay a little longer.
How They Helped Me
These stories came into my life at drastically different times, but each caused me to cast myself into my future and look back on my life. Linds' story serendipitously planted a seed that eventually caused our team at Yoko Co to fire a bunch of our clients that felt... draining, and agree, from that day forward, to only work with clients with whom we felt their impact and purpose was aligned with the legacy we wanted to leave behind as well. Furthermore, it reminded me that we need not sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our work. You can't pour from an empty cup and, it turns out, happy, well rounded, thoughtful people who care about the work they do, also tend to do better work.
Jack's story was shared with me after the COVID shutdown (which, for me, was a blessing in disguise I may have to unpack another day) and served as a beautiful juxtaposition to Linds' retrospective. Jack's story shared a series of thematic elements that also felt incredibly satisfying to me, both as I read how they were a part of his life, and as I looked back at my own life, yet unlived. These elements, when taken in concert with one another, appear to form the foundation for a fulfilling life and career. He recounts that he had the opportunity to be surrounded by incredible people in his personal and professional life. Professionally, he was able to maintain consistency by remaining with the same organization, and, as a result, create deep and fulfilling long term relationships with people he worked with. He managed all of this while also introducing ongoing novelty to his worklife as his career spanned multiple roles within the same organization. Tying it all together was doing work that seemed to be fun, challenging, and above all, purposeful.
How They Can Help You
I don't recommend these memoirs to tell you how greatly Jack and Linds' stories have impacted me. But, to share the lesson they taught me so you, too, can apply it to your own life. You have the ability, right now, to transport yourself to the end of your life, and look back on this very moment and ask yourself what decision you should make that will enable you to feel more like Jack, or less like Linds, were you to find yourself in their position.
What would you change, right now, to live the life you'd be proud of looking back on it?