The Irresponsible Life

Posted on February 12, 2014


the dancer

Phillip Seymour Hoffman died last week (which I’m sure, by now, you’ve heard) and his death has sparked debates about selfishness almost everywhere, it seems.

Op-eds, television shows, People magazine and even a few friends of mine from high school (friends, by the way, who were well acquainted with drug use even in our early teens) are having conversations about his “irresponsible death.”

But how can you talk about someone’s irresponsible death as if it is a separate event from the rest of a person’s life? You can’t die irresponsibly unless you live irresponsibly. And no one’s going to say that Hoffman led a completely irresponsible life because, hey, let’s face it. The guy really put himself out there. He realized a lot of his talent and he gave it to the world.

He was a deeply gifted actor. He was a burgeoning director. He won Academy Awards and Golden Globe awards and Tony awards and he had three kids. So I’d rather not judge Hoffman’s life-or death for that matter-as irresponsible when he consistently realized what he had to offer.  He did a lot more with his life than most people ever will.

Do you know what an irresponsible life is? It’s a life where you don’t live up to your true potential because you’re afraid of something. A life where you’d rather settle for the familiar because it feels more safe than failure. A life where you never speak up, you never speak out, and you stay in the comfortable world you’ve created because you know that there you’ll never be challenged to change.

Very few of us have the luxury of judging someone else’s life as irresponsible when we’ve got our own irresponsible lives to deal with.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’ve had a ridiculous amount of near-death experiences for someone who is only 36 years old. Several terrible car accidents, a bus almost flattening me in a cross walk, a tragic white water rafting accident in Costa Rica, stage 3b lymphoma and most recently, severe heart failure. So you’d think, with all of this behind me, that I live a life where I’m not scared of shit.

But even the small, stupid stuff sends my lizard into one of her hysterical, fear-creating monologues.

Here’s a perfect example. Yesterday, I found a livingsocial deal for 5 dance classes at a local studio for $25. $25! What a steal! I’ve wanted to take dance classes forever and now, here was my chance!

But I hemmed and hawed about buying this voucher. And here were my reasons for stalling: What if I get in there and make a complete fool of myself? What if I fall or trip or break a bone? What if everyone else in the class is way better than me and there’s a partner dance and I’m left on the sidelines by myself (or worse, as the teacher’s partner) because no one wants to be stuck with the woman who can’t dance? What if everyone is like (gasp!) in their 20’s and young and hip and I’m the only one there pushing 40?

See how melodramatic all of that is?

I’m someone who has been chemo-bald, who has survived days in an ICU after giving birth, who has crawled out of the shattered back window of an overturned car, who has swam in a dangerous, out-of-control, foreign river to safety, and yet and yet a series of five dance classes has the power to get all of this anxiety going.

I realized how scared I was and so I bought the voucher. Because, well, fuck it. I’m not going to let my lizard control my life. And yeah, maybe I’ll get in there and I will mess up the moves and trip over someone and break my arm. So what? So what?

You get one human life. You get one chance to be who you are.

In my office is a quote I have put up on the wall for my clients and for myself too, really. It’s from a poem by Mary Oliver and it says: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

I love that reminder. We all get one wild and precious life which is solely and completely ours to live however we’d like. We get one stint at realizing our gifts and our potential and sharing these shamelessly with others.

Let’s all stop being so irresponsible with it.

Posted in: Change