A blog post has been circulating around ad agencies.
Written by an art director who was dying of cancer.
It’s an incredibly touching piece of writing.
What people take as its main message is summarised in the cliché:
“On their deathbed, no one says ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
I know a lot of people agree with this, but personally I’ve always struggled with it.
Why single out work for regret?
Shouldn’t it be “On their deathbed, no one says ‘I wish I’d spent more time doing things I don’t like.”
My problem is the cliché presumes only time spent at the office is wasted time.
That there’s some mythical, wonderful world of endless pleasure and satisfaction waiting for everyone if only they’d leave the office.
Well I have several problems with that.
If that’s how you feel about your job, you’re in the wrong job.
If you desperately long to do something else, do it.
What’s the problem?
Oh, the problem is you can’t do the thing you really want to do.
Be a heroic space pilot, be a successful author, be a Michelin starred chef, be a Hollywood screenwriter, be a rock star.
Well if you can’t do it, it’s not really an option is it?
And leaving the office earlier won’t make it happen.
In which case we need to choose from the options that are available.
Not the options in our dreams.
So the real question is, from the options available have we picked the best one?
We’ve got a family, a mortgage, a car, a good lifestyle.
Are those all things we want?
If the answer’s yes, move to the next question: do we have another option for getting the money they cost?
The answer is most probably no.
So we made a choice.
And we gave up the thing we really wanted to do because we need the money.
But that’s not true either.
Because there’s another thing I’ve learned.
If we really wanted to do it, we’d be doing it.
Whatever it is.
If we wanted to write a book, we’d be doing it.
But we’re not doing it because we’d rather spend the time when we’re not at work, doing other things.
Going to the pub, watching TV, being with the family, going to football, going to restaurants.
We have plenty of time outside work.
But we have different priorities for that time.
Making more time appear won’t suddenly change those priorities.
We’ve made our choice from the options available to us.
We like to pretend that we would have made better choices if only we were free.
This is what Sartre calls ‘living inauthentically’.
Living in the world of pretending things aren’t the way they are.
Making ourselves unhappy with regret over mythical choices.
When the real problem is, we don’t want to take responsibility for the choices we made.
We want to be able to say we were forced into them.
That we had no choice.
When, in fact, all we have is choice.
To choose this or that, all day every day.
That’s all life is.
As Sartre says “We are condemned to be free.”
But we don’t really want that kind of freedom.
So we choose not choose.
And in that way we believe we evade taking responsibility for our choices.
Although, of course, we still take the consequences.
Because everything comes with a consequence.
So what we actually want to do is evade blame for the consequences.
And how we think we do that is by evading responsibility for the choice.
And therefore having no power over the consequence.
Isn’t that dumb?
To disempower ourselves to choose the consequence by pretending we have no choice.
So we pretend we are forced to let circumstance choose for us.
And we suffer the consequence.
And the payoff is we can complain.
And that’s the life many of us choose, by not choosing at all.
Creating regret and then complaining about it.