Emily Brontë Died at Thirty

How Old Are You?

Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing
My wife and I recently watched the movie To Walk Invisible about the Brontë sisters. These amazing sisters created some of the most enduring works of English literature.

The eldest sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics). The youngest sister Anne wrote Agnes Grey (Penguin Classics). The middle sister Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (Penguin Classics).

Their decision to write and publish under male pseudonyms is an amazing story of strategy and perseverance. Charlotte was “Currer Bell,” Anne was “Acton Bell,” and Emily was “Ellis Bell.”

As with all writers in their day, their work was conducted often by candlelight and always by hand with ink and quill on paper. I am writing this post in an online editor with cut and paste, auto-spell check, and the ability to publish to the world with one click of the “publish” button. It is hard to even envision the painstaking effort they expended to bring these works to readers.

There are many aspects to their story that I find amazing, but perhaps the thing that strikes me most is the fact that Emily Brontë lived only 30 years. In fact, her youngest sister Anne lived only 29 years. Charlotte lived only to the age of 38.

I do not measure myself against women who were among the most gifted writers in the English language, but I do draw two lessons from their lives:

  1. Youth should be no barrier. If anyone told them they were too young, the Brontës did not listen. Some of us seem to be waiting until some magic future date when we are of sufficient age to do something important. Go ahead and do it now. Will you get better at it as you get older? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not. In the case of the Brontës, there was no getting older. Life is uncertain and short. That leads to the second lesson…
  2. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started doing something you really want to do and need to do. Don’t wait for later and older. Do it now. Get it started. Do not let resistance paralyze you. If you plan to do creative work (writing, music, art, entrepreneurship), get a copy of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and let it motivate you. The main thing is to act. Now.

I have to confess that while we have had copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our library for years, I have read neither. I am going to correct that soon. I think that as I read them knowing just how young these authors were when they wrote them, it will really reinforce the two lessons above.

Hopefully it will motivate me to act.

How old are you at present? If older than 30, take encouragement from what these young women did at a younger age than you. If you are younger than 30, follow the Bronte’s lead. Make it happen.

What Will You Never Regret?

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I appreciate the fact that you are reading this blog. I desire not only to share what I have learned about life and the future, but to learn from you as well. At this time I could really use your help. I am working on a chapter in my book on regret.

Most of us have regrets over things we have done in the past or over opportunities we have missed. Sometimes this regret can be very serious and require professional help. Other times it just nags at us and ties us to the past.

Here is what I would like to know from you. Envision yourself at the end of your life. You are about to complete this journey. You look back across the years and think about all that you have done, seen, and experienced.

What are the things that at the end of your life you will never regret having done?

Please “Leave a Reply” below to share your thoughts. If you prefer, you can also leave your thoughts on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ForwardStory

Doomsday Is Here?

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As I write this post, we are two days from the Winter Solstice 2012, which is on Friday, December 21, 2012. This is the day each year when we in the northern hemisphere have the shortest daylight and longest darkness. For many years now I have had this particular Winter Solstice in my calendar under the heading:

End of The World (Mayan Doomsday Prophecy)

You are either reading this before or after 12/21/12. If before, you may laugh off the prophecy or you may be really expecting the world to end. If after, you will know that either the prophecy was false or the interpreters of the prophecy were mistaken. This idea of the end of the world intrigues me with regard to writing and living my Forward Story. The fact is that on Friday life will end for many people on earth. Even if it doesn’t end for all of us, many will meet their own end as a result of natural causes or the risks of life as mortal beings.

Any Forward Story that does not take into account the fact that life here is not forever will be lacking. It will not lead to true happiness because it is not based on the truth. My encouragement to us all is to live each day understanding how precious and short life is and to be sure our plans and activities properly value those people and causes that we truly care about. These need to all be included in our plans and stories.

See you in 2013.

Unless I don’t.

Terminal

Today my son gave me the crushing news that one of his best friends just learned that his father has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease). This news hit me like a ton of bricks. I know his father. I admire his father. I really like his father. He has two kids in college and two younger kids that really rely on their father. This news was different than the news of cancer or other diseases because of the prognosis. Cancer and heart disease carry with them a certain measure of hope. ALS is always fatal, ultimately.

In other words, he has a “terminal illness.” I started thinking about that phrase: TERMINAL ILLNESS. We treat that phrase with so much trepidation because we dread the idea of having an illness that is terminal. Surely we realize, though, that we all have a terminal condition. It is called humanness. None of us are getting out of this thing alive. We are mortal.

In this blog we are focused on the future and on developing a powerful forward story. How do you develop a forward story when ALS is the diagnosis? Let me rephrase the question: How do you develop a forward story when you have a terminal condition?

Don’t forget, we all do.

Some illnesses carry with them a generally accepted range of life expectancy. A person with ALS has a better idea of how much time they may have left. Those of us with the terminal illness of humanness just live like we are not terminal and like we are not dying. I am really not trying to be morbid, but I am trying to be realistic.

The task before all of us is to develop a forward story while knowing we have a terminal condition. We don’t like to look our mortality in the face. We find ways to avoid the topic. One of the responsibilities we all have is to grow up and to embrace adulthood. Living with the understanding that we are mortal and terminal is a requirement of adulthood. Becoming an adult requires honesty. Honesty demands that we face the fact that we will die.

Each six months or so I update my personal Forward Story. Some call this a Life Plan. It is a look at what I plan for my future to include and be. In order to remind myself of my own mortality, I begin each new version of my Forward Story with the following disclaimer:

The purpose of this Forward Story is not to predict the future. I have lived long enough now to understand that the future cannot be predicted. Part of the excitement and challenge of life is responding to unforeseen events. The various time horizons detailed here are not intended to imply that I believe that my life will continue for any specific length. I am aware of the fact that life is “even a mist” and that my life could end at any time. This is a fact of life. I also trust in God’s providence and plan for me. Hopefully my plans are consistent with His will for my life. This story is a snapshot of my vision for the future at this particular point in time. By definition it will change with the seasons of life and the circumstances I encounter. My reason for maintaining a Forward Story is to ensure that I do not simply wander through life aimlessly and look back one day as an old man disappointed in my lack of purpose and contribution to my family and to my world.

As we go along I will further develop some of the ideas expressed in this disclaimer. For now, the main point is that I do not know how long I will live. The fact that I write a Forward Story doesn’t mean that I have any idea how long I will live. It simply means that I plan to live in a purposeful way.

My friend with ALS has a Forward Story. He planned well for his family with life insurance, and he has provided for them in other important ways. He will continue to enjoy his life and his family as he faces his disease and his future. He is also a person of faith who has a Forward Story he is relying on that extends beyond this human reality.

As I write and maintain my personal Forward Story, I will always remember that I am terminal. How about you?