Recently, I got to attend a fantastic two-day event called the Personal Mastery Academy that was hosted by Robin Sharma. On day two, he told us a story that deeply resonated with me. It was about how we live our lives for others, never really chasing the dreams that would have made us great. We end up settling for the ideals of society around us, yet never accomplishing what we were meant to do. This story is wholly rehashed from my memory, I do hope that I tell it well.
John was a young boy, very inquisitive and always fascinated by pirates. Whenever he had the chance, he would dress up in his favourite pirate costume and go around the house looking for loot and living out the pirate dream. When the teachers would ask him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would proudly proclaim: “I want to be a pirate!”. Teachers thought it was cute and never took his dream seriously. John would even often dress up as a pirate and go to school, and while some kids would make fun of him, but he never wavered on his love of being a pirate. He was just being himself.
John, now 12 years old was asked by a teacher what kind of career path he was going to pursue, without a pause, John once again said that he wanted to be a pirate. This time, the teacher was not so amused. “You cannot possibly want to be a pirate! Where are you going to go to college to learn to be one?” the teacher asked. “I don’t know, but I will find one,” replied John. The teacher sensing that John may be pulling his leg sent him to detention for making fun of him.
John was crushed. He was telling the truth, he really wanted to be a pirate. But on that day, the teacher planted the seed of doubt in John’s mind. John started to believe that maybe he really can’t be a pirate. To fit in, he would have to give up his dream.
On so many occasions, John’s parents tried to convince him that the pirate life is not one that can be pursued. As John was getting older, his parents pushed his dream a little further away. Even until high school, John still had a dream to be a pirate, but when asked what he wanted to do when he graduated, he would often deflect the question with “I don’t know.” or “Something in business, I guess.”
Upon graduating college, John applied to various business schools and eventually found himself taking a course in business. Accounting was his strong suit, and after a few years of college, John found himself a well paying job with a hometown accounting firm. Life was taking off, but John was just following along. Soon, he had the money to buy a house, a nice car. He found a wife and soon, he became a father to two sons.
Life soon became a raging river of memories and flashed by in almost an instant. His sons were grown up, in college and now starting lives of their own. Whenever Halloween would roll around, John took advantage to dress up like the best pirate and attend any party in town that he could. His pirate dreams were always alive at Halloween and after many years of dressing up as one, his wife, tired of dressing up as a pirate’s wife, suggested that the costume was getting old, it was time to dress up as something different. Once again, John’s pirate ambitions were being challenged.
Middle age soon became old age and John was starting to lose his memory. It began by forgetting his keys and then essential appointments. His forgetfulness was innocent, but soon, it began to concern his family. John was quickly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Day by day, John’s memories of his childhood, young adulthood, and life were disappearing. Soon John was even forgetting his children’s names and eventually his wife’s name.
Alzheimer’s eventually claimed every memory John would ever have. Everything he did was unrecognizable to him, the houses, the cars, the memorable vacations all over the world, his well-payed career and his family. Everything he ever worked and lived for was being claimed by the awful disease. John was slowly but surely disappearing.
On the day of his death, John laid on the hospital bed observing everything around him. Faces that were once familiar to him were now strange. His wife of 50 years was no more recognizable to him than a stock picture in a dollar store frame. On this day, his last one spent on the planet, John even forgot his name. His wife begs him to remember his name, asked “John, that’s your name, do you remember who you are?”. In his final words, John replied: “I am a pirate.”
So many of us live our lives that are not aligned with our dreams. We work at jobs that do not fulfil us. We maintain relationships that do not give us joy. We live in towns and cities that do not comfort us. We eat food that does not feed us. We spend our entire lives leading unfulfilled lives all in the hope that by complying, we will make others happy. Why do we do this to ourselves? Most will find the excuse that by making our dreams a priority that we are selfish. Others will feel that they must put the welfare of others ahead of their own. What will be your answer when you are asked on your last day on this planet “Do you remember who you are?” can you honestly answer “me”?
Be your pirate.