I was explaining to someone how my constant push to accomplish more, do more, succeed more is the result of my belief that I am always and forever standing on the edge of a cliff, and at any moment, I could topple over into the same oblivion that caused me to be homeless and jailed and absent of all hope earlier in my life.
I explained to this woman that it's my sense of the cliff that never allows me to feel entirely secure with my position in life. At any moment, it can all be taken away, regardless of my success. As a result, I feel the need to relentlessly push forward at all times.
Sounds a little crazy, I know, but someone as successful as Springsteen feels similarly. The sentiment was recently described by someone on a podcast (who is also hugely successful but feels the same way) as financial PTSD.
In response to my explanation of the cliff, the woman said, "It must be so hard to feel like your constantly standing on the edge of a cliff like that."
"You're standing on the edge of the cliff, too. We all are. The only difference between you and me is that I can see the cliff. I know it's there. We all face oblivion. Most people are just blissfully unaware."
"Ignorance is bliss, I guess," she said.
"Maybe," I said. But here's the truth:
Hospice workers will tell you that the majority of their patients express regret on their death bed. Regret about not chasing down their dreams. Living the life their parents expected instead of the one they dreamed of living. Not spending enough time with family. Losing touch with friends. Never graduating from high school, earning a college degree or learning a second language. Not traveling enough. Failing to take risks. Failing to chase love. Never finding the courage to ask, "Will you be mine?"
These are people who have suddenly become aware of the cliff, but it's too late to do anything about it.
We're all standing on the edge of the cliff. We are all on the brink of oblivion. And while ignorance may be bliss, I suspect that in the back of our minds, we all know the cliff is there. We all understand how fragile and finite life truly is and how easily we could lose it all. Illness, accident, an act of violence, financial upheaval, addiction, natural disaster, and yes, even an arrest for a crime you did not commit could strip you of your safety and security in a second. We all know the cliff is there, and I suspect that we all know when we are failing ourselves and our futures.
We know when we aren't being our best selves.
I am perhaps more fixated on the cliff than most, or perhaps I am simply willing and able to acknowledge its existence more than most. It's possible that a near-death experience at 12 and another at 17, combined with a gun pressed to my head and the trigger pulled, and homelessness and jail have brought the cliff into clearer focus for me. These experiences have made me more relentless than most. More driven.
Perhaps that theory of financial PTSD is true.
But the cliff is there for each and every one of us. History is littered with the stories of brilliant, successful, and wealthy people who lost everything. Men and women who toppled over into a seemingly impossible oblivion that no one saw coming.
Just ask the victims of Bernie Madoff if they ever thought they might face financial ruin. Speak to the people in a country like Venezuela, which is on the verge of collapse, if they ever thought that they might face starvation and destitution. Ask the professional athletes, musicians, and entertainers who made hundreds of millions of dollars during their careers who now have nothing if they ever thought that poverty was possible.
The cliff is there, and while I am perhaps far too fixated on its omnipresence, I also an keenly aware of the enormous amount of regret in this world for dreams not chased, risks not taken, childhoods missed, and love lost. I fight against the fear of financial oblivion, but I am also fighting to ensure that when I'm facing my final days, I can look back on my life with great satisfaction and very little regret.