In the magnificent Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand, a question is posed: “If and when you die, you are to be welcomed by all the great people who lived before you and made strong impacts on the world. What would you like to hear from them?” In the book, although this question appears to be directed towards a novel-character, doesn’t it actually feel that it has been asked to us all?
Yes, you, dear reader, just imagine you have completed your time on this earth and have moved on to the other side; you notice that people who welcome you are the ones that you admired and assumed to be influential forefathers. They are scientists, musicians, businessmen, politicians, leaders, thinkers, people you wanted to be like and aspired to follow their footsteps—and they are standing right in front of you, facing you. What is it that you would like to hear from them? What would bring delight to you, if heard from them? Which words would touch your heart and make you feel a welcome back home? I recommend that you reflect a little before you go ahead and read the rest of my words, or even maybe take some notes about this question.
Did you think about it? The following response, as heard by the heroine of Atlas Shrugged, moves me and brings tears to my eyes: “Well done, Son! You did great!” Yes, could you imagine anything more satisfying than to hear these words from the most brilliant minds of history? “Well done, Son! You have lived your time on this earth like it was worth it.”
So now looking at your life and where you have put your attention up till now, do you feel like you’ve earned these words? Do not get me wrong, I am not questioning the worth of your life or what you have achieved. Far from it. I am just inviting you to ponder on your life’s orientation. My interest is not if you have invented something or discovered a continent or even a planet. My question may be related to these but rather different: Are you living your life in a way that aims to make the best of what has been given to you, your gifts, and in a way to do the very best you can? Or, do you live by hiding behind excuses and life itself?
Here’s the question: Whatever you are; wherever you are; can you look at what you produce—the quality of what you produce, the choices you make, the interactions you engage in, the things you take a stand for—in short, the current picture of your life, and say, “This is it! This is the best that I can produce!” Can you say these words without blaming anyone or anything or any circumstance? Without saying “It is not my job to rock the boat”? Without feeling that you winged it again? Are there things that you do saying “I know I shouldn’t, but…”? Do you define your most important value as honesty and then feel like a fake deep inside? When your results are discussed, is the energy you spend defending yourself more than what you spent to produce those results? Is there always someone else to blame?
Actually, if hearing the words “Well done, Son, you did great, we are honored by your presence” would not be just an imaginary exercise, if it was really possible to have such an encounter, what would you do? What would you choose differently? What would you stop doing right now and what would you start doing right away? Who would you be? What would be your life’s new principles and values? What would you most certainly preserve? What would you keep in your life for sure? And what would you not allow in your life?
Bertrand Russell, one of the people I would definitely like to see on the other side, in his article “What I Have Lived For” wrote:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching the very verge of despair…This is my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered to me.
Forget about the other side or the other world, forget about the wise forefathers. What do you need in your life right now to tell yourself the following statements when you go to bed tonight? “Well done Son, you did great! I am proud to be me. And this is my life. I find it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered to me.”