Keagan Pearson speaks on the wisdom of Linds Redding: change your life by changing your perspective.
What constitutes a life well lived?
Money… power… passion… acclaim… creativity? Or, if we want to stick with a popular theme of our time, maybe it’s “doing work that matters”?
Assuming that most men have some kind of world view, your answer to this question could take on a myriad of forms. There are faith based views on one hand and secular views on another. We have views that are passed down by family, by peers, by capitalism, by our culture. Let’s just say that there is no short supply of both the well intentioned and the dubiously schemed.
However, there is one event in life that proves to be very effective in crystalizing what’s important, something that slices through all the pettiness and exposes the worth of our motives.
“Biting the big one”, “the final curtain call”, “kicking the bucket”, or whatever nifty moniker you choose, death has an uncanny ability to construct a tidy little narrative of our past that’s ripe for the red ink of an editor’s pen. Everything gets scrutinized and evaluated for its necessity within the broader story. All the refuse gets scraped off the top and you’re left with the bits that were worthy of your attention—and a big pile of crap I suppose.
That’s how Linds Redding saw it.
Having spent 30+ years in advertising, with a stint as creative director for the likes of BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi, Linds Redding found himself at the pinnacle of what the creative world would call success. For three decades he had participated in and lead creative teams that spun ads for some of the biggest brands on the face of the planet. He was a Don Draper-like figure for the modern age you could say, although not nearly as well dressed.
On the back of long hours and creative drive he made a name for himself. A name that brought him more work, more responsibility, and financial means far beyond his expectations.
But, he also got one more thing: cancer. Esophageal cancer to be exact.
He actually wrote about the day that he was diagnosed and tried to explain how quickly he went from being happy and healthy to living with a devious mass in “the pipe that connects his throat to his stomach”. Do you remember that “crystalizing” I mentioned in the beginning of this piece? On August 10, 2011 that’s what Linds was beginning to experience.
The seven months following that diagnosis was apparently life altering. With time and some invasive medical intervention, Linds had begun to meticulously weed through his life’s work. What had been the point of the last 30 years? Was it worth all the time that it took? Was it worth the vacations spent in the office or the sleepless nights reeling over the perfect line? Was the work worth all of the failed marriages that he saw crumble around him, even if his had survived?
Linds was beginning to have some serious doubts about his narrative. To him, his story lacked some much needed perspective. So, he did what any good writer does, he wrote about it. In an essay that he titled, “A Short Lesson in Perspective,” Linds detailed what he thought he (and many others in the business) had missed in their time spent in the ad world. In fact, he actually concluded that “It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did.” Some run-ins with old colleagues lead him to conclude that they were all “deranged” and “disengaged from reality.”
What is telling throughout his essay was how broadly his thinking could apply to just about anything we pursue. Regardless of whether or not you agree or even care about his indictment of the advertising industry, his words carry a certain legitimacy that’s applicable to all of us. Namely, are we going to wait until the end before we take notice of how we’ve lived?
With Linds in mind, I propose that we use a method he employed at the beginning of his essay, called “The Overnight Test.”
Early in his career this test was used as a way to vet the quality of an idea for one of their campaigns. It was a kind of spit balling that would get all of their ideas out on paper for possible inclusion in the final product. Before going home that night, they would pin all of the paper fragments up on a board so that they could review them the following morning. With fresh eyes and even fresher judgment, every concept got scrutinized and either included or destroyed. This got worked and reworked over and over until they had honed an idea worth pitching.
Does this sound like something that could be useful to you, right now?
If you’re like me you have plenty of things occupying your time and your grey matter that could use some perspective. Old school methodology aside, try using “The Overnight Test” on your own life.
Write every element of your life in a word or a slogan. You should see things like: work, play, hobbies, family, faith, projects, dreams, goals, obligations, etc. It doesn’t matter how abstract or menial something may seem to be, just put it down. Then, use those pages to construct your major categories, the things that are most important to you. Under the main headings go the subcategories that fit within them, and so on and so forth.
Then, sleep on it.
After a night or more, come back to your scribblings and see what you think. Are there main categories that have faded in importance? Are there subacategories that should be raised in importance? Are there some things that you need to eliminate from your life or elements that you forgot to include? You might even have some trusted family and friends take a look. Much like Linds alluded to, the criticism of those that you trust can be invaluable in a project like this.
Of course, the hard part has yet to come. Now you actually have to begin making changes when you’ve developed a new perspective. For instance, what are you willing to do if your work has taken over your life? Can you scale back? Take another position? Change jobs or fields completely? It may not be a simple change, but the important decisions in life aren’t often easy.
You also have to consider that this exercise is not a once-and-done proposition. Our different life stages will see a flux in what’s most important at the time. So be prepared to check back.
Maybe, just maybe, this will help clarify the important things in life… before death does it for you.
Photo credit: @boetter/Flickr