Most of you have at least heard of the movie Meet Joe Black. In the movie Death arrives at the home of a media mogul in the body of the young man, and given the moguls “competence, experience, and wisdom.” Death says that for as long as he will be Death’s guide on earth, the man will not have to die. The movie begins in earnest as the mogul introduces Death to his family as Joe Black. As the mogul’s final birthday arrives at the end of the movie, the mogul appeals to Death, Joe Black, to recognize the meaning of true love and all it encompasses, especially honesty and sacrifice. Imagine that conversation.
“We’re here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
—Henry Charles Bukowski
And that image brings me to the thoughts about another writer, a mortal writer indeed, the author and poet Charles Bukowski. Charles was an unabashed drinker, Lothario, and all-around disaster in life. He lived one of the taboo male fantasies; the uninhibited bachelor, slobby, anti-social, and utterly free, drunk on the stage at his poetry readings and verbally abusive to his audiences. He was pretty much out of control most of the time. He gambled most of his money away and had an ill-fated habit of exposing himself in public. Hey, boys will be boys.
All of this being said, in spite of Bukowski’s ghastly lifestyle, he was a deeply contemplative and brooding man with more character than half the people you meet or those in the books you read today. Charles spent most of his life poor, plastered, and losing job after job. He was a poet at heart, not a clerk. He wound up filing letters in a post office when he got his first book offer. All his life he wrote continuously, and he was published from time to time, but until his book he remained a relative unknown, a loser. He wrote for more than a generation before finally getting that first book deal. It was pitiful. When accepting the offer, he wrote, “I have one of two choices: stay in the post office and go crazy, or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” But it was a deal all the same.
His writings about his anxieties, his fiascos, his doubts, his self-destructive behavior, and emotional dysfunctional remain unmatched even today. He wrote about the best and worst of himself without so much as a flinch, without shifting his eyes or even muttering a “sorry about that” as a postscript. He wrote about both shame and pride without qualification. Bukowski shares that his father beat him with a razor strop three times a week from the ages of six to eleven. He said that it helped his writing, as he came to understand undeserved pain. The depression bolstered his rage as he grew, and gave him much of his voice and material for his writings. His writing was painfully even tempered; a hushed grip of the atrocious and yet lovely man that he was.
What Bukowski understood, that most individuals don’t, is that the best things in life can sometimes be unpleasant. You have all heard it said that “life is messy.” Surely we can all admit that we’re all screwed up a little, in our own special snowflake sort of way. As for Charles, he never comprehended the baby boomer preoccupation with peace and happiness or the naiveté that rode in with it. He knew from his own life that you don’t get one side of the nickel without the other side. Heads and tails come as one deal. You can’t have love without suffering. You don’t get meaning and insightfulness without some sacrifice; sometimes a lot of sacrifice.
What Bukowski understood,
that most individuals don’t,
is that the
best things in life
can sometimes be unpleasant.
As a life coach, the concept of “life purpose” is something that I know a great deal about and has verily exploded in popularity in recent decades. People don’t just want to make money or build a safe career. People want to do something important. People want to be noticed. People want to be looked up to. People want meaning.
Meaning is the new luxury.
But like any other luxury, if we aren’t careful, we come to idealize it rather than enjoy it. People have come to think that all you have to do is find “that thing,” that one friggin’ thing! That thing that you are “meant” to do, and suddenly, everything will just magically drop into place. Then you’ll be enchantingly happy and do this special thing until the day you die, always feeling fulfilled and happy, petting the elephants and enjoying the sunrises while making zillions of dollars in your pajamas from home. But oh-shit, we really do need that one thing; if only we knew what we were meant to do, then everything would fit into place. Whew! It makes you break out in a sweat just thinking about it, right?
I can confirm that it’s possible to work with a coach to tease out those good ideas to help you get started. To help you find meaning and purpose in what will turn out to be quite a bit more than a five-day coaching retreat. It will be a fucking hike through weedy swamps in heavy rain and lightning striking all around you. And you’d better love it, this thing you seek. You better friggin’ ache for this thing. It has to be first on your list of lists; and yes, don’t forget you have to LOVE IT.
Bukowski once wrote, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” (Spoiler Alert: did you notice his assumption that you would be willing to walk through it?) Finding the passion and a purpose in your life is often via trial and error, a trial-by-fire sort of thing. You don’t just wake up one day and find yourself thrilled to be doing one thing forever and ever. Like death, it’s an endless Meet Joe Black learning experience, work-in-progress. You have to try something, notice how it feels, assess and modify your direction, and then try again, and again, and again. Rarely does anyone get it right on the first try, or the 10th or sometimes even the 300th. And then, if/when you finally do get things the way you want them, what you want is likely to change. Because the world changes, you change, the thing you select changes.
You have to try something,
notice how it feels,
assess and modify
and then try again,
and again, and again.
Doing What You Love
The reality that doing what you love is not the same as loving what you do was something that Bukowski understood better than most people. There’s an essential sacrifice involved in it. It is part of life. Just like choosing a life partner, it’s not choosing someone who makes you unicorn and tree-fairy happy with every breath you take; it’s choosing somebody you will want to be with even when they’re pissing you off or when you’re lost.
Look folks, it won’t feel like work but, instead like something unavoidable, like you almost have no choice in the matter. It’s purely who you are, hot mess and all. It’s your vehicle that you choose to ride towards death with. And you know what? You will notice that you are thrilled to let it take you there. How else could you ever travel? And yet, you’re under no illusions that it won’t be a rough ride and you accept from the start that there will be surprises along the way. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Your study of coaching may lead you to writing which might turn into a career in books and articles and then you may decide at age 65 that blogging has been corrupted by advertising interests and you spend the rest of your days writing a book that you never publish—or maybe you do from your patio in Bonnieux, France.
- Your interest in the gym may lead you to a deeper interest in training and yoga, which then gets you into personal training, working with people on body improvement and wellness. This leads you into a life as trainer, but after dealing with the surface-level issues of your clients, you discover that the body molds itself to match repressed emotions. So you take your coaching certificate that you worked on for years, say screw it, and open up a physical training and NLP coaching business in California where you dedicate the last of your days to promoting mind-body awareness.
Rarely do we experience love at first sight. An even smaller number will experience passion and consequence at first experience. As with a relationship, you really do have to build it from scratch, piece-by-piece, learning from each earlier mistake, until after years of lumber, brick, mortar, tears, and sweat, lots of sweat, it stands on its own, sheltering you from all that comes. And once we’re there, like a jet in a long, slow glide to the ground, we let it take us to our graves. That is a good thing.
So when Joe Black does come, and he will indeed come, how will he take you?
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.