Then, at the age most people work their entire lives looking forward to begin living, with a small knife and belt he was ending his life.
It is sad and tragic, but at least we can say he was a man who truly lived.
Williams led a colorful and gifted life. And a person who can feel as much pain as he felt can also feel such extraordinary joy.
He really lived, but how many other lives are really lived?
I’m not just talking about the millions of people who sacrifice year-after-year living for their retirement and never making it that far, I’m talking about the many who fail to live the lives they have today.
This work began for me when the Internet bubble burst in 2000 and Goldman laid off half my office.
Before that I was a lifer. I lived and breathed investment banking and Goldman Sachs and there was nothing else I could imagine doing, at least I thought.
But when the Internet bubble burst and my compensation expectations were slashed by two-thirds and my career track looked long, dark, and narrow, I began to see I had been fooling myself all along.
Whereas I believed I was a lifer, what I came to see was my definition of being a lifer was being “done” sometime between the age of 35-40. I figured Wall Street was a fast-track career and if I put my head down and worked hard for a couple of decades then at a fairly young age I would be free to live the life I truly want.
Realizing this wasn’t realistic today (and was a childish illusion to begin with), I began to think about my career differently. I thought, if I am going to be working in my 40s and 50s anyways, then is this how I want to spend the best years of my life?
And here’s the thing.
I really liked banking and Goldman and I could have easily imagined building a great career and life, but that wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t want to like and enjoy my career and have a great life.
I want to absolutely love what I do every day. I want to absolutely fucking love my life.
Some people tell me that is unrealistic that life doesn’t work that way, and when I meet these people I am grateful I am not them.
All the time I ask people: What do you live for?
I ask them, what matters to you so much that it drives your life? I’m fascinated by people’s responses, but it is really the next question from which you can learn more about how you think about your life.
When do you live for? That’s right, when?
You see there are three time-frames in which you can be living your life.
Some people live in the past, thinking about what is behind them, dedicating little time to the future and the present.
Other people live in the present. Some are hedonistic, like my ski-bum mate Tom and others are more zen-like, humming moment to moment.
Most people, however, live for the future, forever thinking about what will or will not or perhaps potentially maybe might happen one day.
Many people spend the majority of their life working towards some (often illusory) goal, giving up their living today for the hope of living sometime in the future.
In psychology, this is referred to as the deferred living plan, and many of us on Wall Street are living it.
The worst case example I call $20 and done.
$20 and done refers to the common question you hear on Wall Street. You know what I’m talking about, right?
When that guy comes up next to you, he puts on his serious voice, and says, “what’s your number?” I call it $20 and done because you can be damn sure if you’re enough of a sucker to ask him his number he will tell you that with $20 in the bank earning this or that return, you have this or that income, and then he will go get some board seats and teach…
No you won’t. We both know that day will never arrive.
Even if you can put away real dough after taxes, before you know it, $20 becomes $30 and $30 becomes $40, and you somehow need this house or that car, and this goal you believed would someday lead you to freedom is entirely elusive.
So, what is the solution?
A few weeks ago I was sitting in New York when I asked myself my standard question: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
With an answer in hand, I poked around online and rented a house in Europe for a couple of months.
Easy, right? Yes, and no.
You see, part of the reason I’m today sitting in Europe typing this is because for nearly two years I have refused to do this. I’ve said, when I get my book done, then I will take the time.
But with draft after draft, and last month sitting down for another major re-write, I figured, enough is enough.
So, I asked myself, How long will you wait to do the things you love? How long will you wait to live the life you truly want?
In the next two weeks many of you will be heading out on vacation.
Some of you will escape, get a real break, and love indulging in your time with your friends and family. Others will be constantly on their phones and devices or in and out of the office, and even while relaxing will be thinking more about what needs to get done post Labor-day.
What will you be thinking about over the next couple of weeks? How much in your past, present, and future will you be?
How engaged will you be in thinking about those who are dead, relative to thinking about fully living your life that is slowly ending?
You can’t live your life like you will be hit by a tram tomorrow, but too many of us fall in the trap of living our lives like we won’t!