I’d loved him and it was harrowing to be there.
Still, I was heartened by the sheer number of friends, colleagues and clients who’d turned up to see him off.
At the get together afterwards, we all spoke of what he’d meant to us. I’m sure if he’d been there to hear our words, he’d have cried too.
Ben knew his stuff. He worked hard. He was courageous. He was naughty. He was funny. He was caring. He was loving.
But beyond all else, in a world where so many people hide behind an invented version of themselves, he was real.
And that stayed with me beyond Ben’s Do and into the past days.
Legacy: what do you want to leave behind when you die?
You’ve probably read the same stuff I have about legacy. Maybe it’s something that’s come up for you in some of the courses, or weekend workshops you’ve attended.
What do you want your life to have been about? What is it you want to leave behind when you die?
Often the emphasis is on tangible things. Money, a business, a novel, a work of art, a movement. I must admit that’s how I used to see it.
But I’ve begun to reframe it since Ben died.
I’ve begun to feel that, like Ben, the biggest thing I could leave to others is the sense that I’d been real. That, for good or bad, I’d lived a life, true to myself and my values. And that, in the process, I’d given others implicit permission to do the same.
The big job opportunity and the myths of self-employment
Maybe I already had a sense of that emerging earlier this year when I said no to an opportunity to take my work in a different direction.
A group of friends and former colleagues are setting up a new consulting company, and I was involved in some exploratory conversations. They are great guys, and from time to time we hook up to do some great facilitation and coaching work. I got really excited about the opportunity that emerged for me, which was to lead part of the business.
If you’re a regular reader here, it might surprise you to know I’d been tempted by what was, after all, a job.
But, you know, there’s a whole lot of mythology out there about how easy it is to work for yourself. How it’s an escape from the drudgery of corporate life. How you can make up your own rules and create your own game and it’s light and happiness all the way.
You absolutely can create your own life.
But that has its own set of challenges. You have to turn up for yourself every day. You have to be very disciplined about what you will and won’t give focus to in order that you stay viable, profitable, and not working all the hours God sends.
You have to decide for yourself the bigger sense of purpose and direction you’ll follow – there’s no big organisation, or brand, other than the one you create.
Sometimes that requires you to dig into yourself and to confront and challenge yourself in ways you’d really rather not.
Even if you are successful today, there’s a whole stream of tomorrow’s success you have to enable. After all, there’s no-one other than you putting a salary in your bank account every month, or whenever you decide to pay yourself.
It’s also tough sometimes to stand outside the norm and to be the person who is playing a different game.
To be the one who challenges the status quo, says things that no-one else will and trust you’ll still be profitable.
Sometimes I just ache to fit in. To be part of something bigger.
I think that consulting group caught me at a moment of questioning all that. Of believing that maybe I’d got it wrong.
I was ready to buy some new power suits, get behind a brand that was bigger than me, and go sell it.
But I began to have doubts.
I began to look past my self-criticism of the last couple of years – the fact, for example, that I’d almost given up on this blog – and see what I’d actually created.
The truth? I’ve created a life on my terms. I do wonderful work – a mixture of corporate and individual coaching. I tend to do no more than three paid days a week. Last year I had twelve weeks holiday, traveled to six different long haul destinations, and still earned well.
Last summer I moved house and love where I’ve ended up. A city style house in a friendly village, and within easy reach of a few nice towns.
Perhaps most important of all, I have a fabulous relationship with a man I love and whose company I adore.
And I began to see the value in having created all of that.
For me. For my clients. For the world.
Yes, this takes work. Yes, I want to achieve even more and different. Yes, this takes me back to myself time and time again.
But, for me, it’s real.
Because, being real is about being who you are.
Sure, a former me could do power suits and all that stuff. And part of me still does. But she’s not all of me. And so I really saw that I couldn’t shut the creative, maverick, different kind of me out.
I took courage in both hands and spoke to my friends. I had some concern that, in deciding to be real, I’d lose their love and friendship. I’m sure that fear’s not uncommon. In fact I know it’s what often keeps people trapped.
Still, I told them that as much as I’d love to work with them, a “job” wasn’t me.
To my surprise, if anything, I think they’ve ended up respecting me even more.
What’s really worth it in the end?
I don’t know about you, but when I die, I won’t be thinking about power suits or corporate identity or whether I was an ace at this job or that. I’ll be asking myself whether the people I love knew it beyond it beyond any doubt. Beyond that, was I happy? Had I lived well? Was I true to myself? Did I do the things I wanted in life? Go to the places I wanted Spend time with the people I wanted to spend time with?
These are the things that to me are worth living and working for.
These are the things that are real.
What about you? Where do you allow yourself to be real? Where is it more difficult? Share your thoughts in the comments and let’s talk about it some more there.