Finding One’s Presence

The great actor and comedian Bill Murray, at the age of 65, was asked in an interview what he wants. He answered “I want to be consistently always there”. This was very much in line with my own recent revelation now that I am in the latter half of my fifties.

You are not really “there” when you are thinking about something else. You could be browsing through your smartphone, watching TV, or simply lost in your thoughts and you are not really paying attention to the words of your wife, children, friends, or even your own feelings. You are really “there” when you are truly connecting with the people around you and fully absorbing the experience you are having.

Not being there is a necessity in life at certain times. A common job interview question is “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” If you have never thought about it, you might not get the job. We are thus encouraged to visualize the potentials we are to fulfill. A generation ago, it was considered a crucial element of the “business of building boys into men”. And as we grow older we are indoctrinated with the notion of self-improvement, that we are like ants in a doodlebug’s hole, struggling to escape the sand pit of mediocrity. It becomes a habit to keep your eyes on the prize. To keep chasing the ever unattainable carrot dangling on a line before our noses. Over the years, we learn to identify our shortcomings and issues, focusing less and less on our achievements. It is necessary in our youth to keep our eyes focused on what could be.

But if we stay on this attitude for too long, we lose sight of our lives. We become so absorbed in what we should be that we are not “there” for the things we can be connecting with right now. We are so focused on becoming “that guy” that we fail to fully appreciate being “this guy”. In a sense, we become like the billionaire who when asked how much money he ultimately wants, answers only “More”. We become mindless hoarders of unattained goals.

There is a funny scene in the movie The Intern. A septuagenarian is hired in a senior intern program, which is something of a public relations stunt, by a company run by a young, driven entrepreneur. The first question he gets asked at the job interview is “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” abruptly followed by an uncomfortable silence. There will come a time when the most likely future ten years down the line is death. And as that day comes closer, we need to readjust ourselves from “eye on the prize” to “being there”.

It is not an easy transition to make and not necessarily a pleasant one. How does one stop trying to escape the doodlebug’s hole? Are we supposed to suddenly accept our mediocre accomplishments just when our existential expiration draws near? For better and for worse, the answer to that is; Yes. It is, admittedly, an uncomfortable yes. It implies the acceptance of our mortality and the inevitable failure of ambition. It is the admission that we cannot self-help our way out of death.

This is not to say that we must stop chasing our dreams. Bill Murray says that he would like to see what he can accomplish while maintaining the state that he is “there”. That is a difficult balance to strike, but an important shift to take later in life. Kudos to Bill Murray for realizing this and answering this candidly in an interview. May we all have that clarity.

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