Several years back, a group of friends and I went to New York to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of A Salesman. Hoffman played Willy Loman. To say I was mesmerized by his performance would not allow you to see how closely I sat on the edge of my seat. It would not allow you to know how focused my eyes and mind were on his character and the struggle he endured trying to make something out of his life.
Hoffman as Willy Loman wanted acclaim. He wanted position and title. He got a loving wife and sons. But they were not enough. He wanted more. He wanted fame and fortune. In the end, his wants gave him death more quickly than life would have given him death.
That performance has never left my mind. Then yesterday, it all came back to me. I was back in that theater in New York. I could hear the shrill voice of Hoffman struggling with those questions. Hoffman sought more and lost it all. He chose escape through drugs. They did give him escape but somehow not the one I think he sought.
Now this is not a rambling piece on the evils of drugs. No. Before the news of Hoffman’s death occupied my mind, I had been thinking about something different that is wrapped up in the whole of Hoffman’s and Loman’s predicament. Freedom of choice. Free will. My way. Independence. Adulthood. Whatever you want to call it.
We are all born with it. Our parents slowly start allowing us to exercise it. Sometimes we get lessons on its safe and prudent use. Sometimes we just learn by trial and error. Some days it benefits us. Some days it burns us. Most days it haunts us. Because far too often, we choose to bear it alone and exercise it alone.
In our personal lives and in our business lives, it is powerful. We can walk away from a bad relationship or walk right into one. We can work where our talents are appreciated or labor where our talents are abused. We can refuse to listen to the advice of others and live on our chosen edge . . . just steps away from falling off the cliff. Whatever that cliff might be . . . finances, drugs, a bad business deal or bad personal relationships.
How can we ever know how to exercise that precious gift of free will most wisely? Our pastor has guided us over the last several weeks to consider this question as something that might help us. In light of my past experience, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?
I wish that question had been seared in my mind about 30 years ago. It was not. I survived though. And the good news is that applying the question today gives me a whole lot of “past experiences” that should have value in decision-making today — if not from the mere fact that I can say as a reference . . . I don’t want to make that mistake again whether in my personal life or my business life . . . whether in a relationship or in a budget . . . so what is the wise decision?
Wisdom comes from giving our free will a rest when we don’t know the answer. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to seek counsel from others. It is okay to say we don’t have all the answers. It is okay to be human.