David Bowie. Prince. Carrie Fisher. George Michael.
Elie Wiesel. Leonard Cohen. Fidel Castro. Muhammed Ali.
If nothing else, this past year included the deaths of some of the most famous people in world. Just when we mourned the loss of one icon, as a culture, we were hit with the next.
The term icon is a funny one. It’s etymology is from the Greek word: ikona.
The image of many of these celebrities was that they had it all: beauty, fame, wealth, admiration, excitement, love. Everything a human being could possibly want (at least at the bottom of Maslow's needs hierarchy).
And yet again and again, these icons fell this past year, often times in the most painful and tragic circumstances.
In a celebrity and image obsessed culture like ours, it’s easy to see the image of the other and think that they have it all figured out. That their lives are better, more special, more desirable than our own.
After all, the fantasies give us something to focus on and dream about while we are commuting to work, while we sit at the salon to touch up the grey that's starting to show up, and while we take care of the kids.
I know that as I watched my own mother deal with and succumb to terminal cancer this past year that oftentimes fantasies - yes, the precise kind that Hollywood specializes in - gave me just enough breathing room to carry on for one more painful trip to the hospital.
Yet what I also know is that there is a direct correlation between the stock we put in celebrities, fantasies and other people’s lives and our own capacity to create meaningful lives. Indeed, I have found a telling inversely correlated relationship with how much time we spend looking at other people’s supposedly more glamorous, interesting and fulfilling lives and how much we spend on building our own.
Think about the most fulfilled, joyful, alive person you know: Does he or she spend precious time tracking celebrities or in creating a meaningful life of his or her own?
In other words, the more time we spend focusing on the lives of others on social media, the press and in the media, the less time we actually spend on creating the lives we want.
Need another example? Have you ever watched soap operas in your life? I certainly have.
I only watched soap operas or read gossip magazines when I was absolutely at my lowest, most hopeless and most depressed, preferably with something sugary in hand. It was a quick fix into fantasy and made me feel I was at least living vicariously through someone else’s far more interesting life.
I’m delighted to report that today I only very rarely dip into that well anymore (although I can still fall into fantasy thinking when I see the thick, gorgeous September issue of Vogue - but now I know what the fantasies can hide and am far more equivocal).
By focusing attention on building the life I want to build and being who I want to be - kinder, more compassionate, more mindful and conscious, a more intentional advocate for the causes I believe in - what other people are doing isn’t as important.
Like your swim coach might have told you way back when: “Stay in your own lane, and you’ll be fine.”
That’s what I see, too, with my clients.
The more they get really clear about their own values and who and what they want to be, the less time and bandwidth they devote to the stressful “compare despair” cycle so many people fall into, where you compare your insides with other people’s outsides.
Living mindfully isn’t about going to a monastery on a mountaintop or becoming a monk - although those can be great options for many. Indeed, learning and practicing mindfulness based stress reduction strategies for busy people with jobs, families and hobbies is the modern-day mountaintop in some ways: it’s peaceful, joyful, quiet and the views are spectacular.
It’s much more about paying attention on purpose to the choices we make moment by moment in our lives and at work. It’s about knowing that every moment is precious, that our time and attention are the only non-renewable resources in the world and investing them wisely.
It’s about knowing who you want to be at work and home, and taking the teeny, tiny mindful action steps forward, to make your life of maximum fulfilment come true.
We don’t need to be icons. We need to be intentional.
And that will make all the difference in who you are next January at this same time.