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Terry Malloy, a former middle-weight boxer, (played by Marlon Brando), speaks to his brother, Charlie, in the back of their car in the 1950s movie, On the Water Front, it is clear that his reflections express regret for not taking more risks during the first half of life.

Terry now works at the docks of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the corrupt boss who exploits the desperation of day laborers. What Terry sees at the docks repulses him.

In an economically-depressed environment, much like our own climate, many are out of work, more gather by the docks each morning hoping to secure work for that day than can be hired, placing Johnny Friendly and his forces in a position to capitalize on their hungry situation. Those who complain of the working conditions or wages one day don’t work the next day, or are placed in harm’s way. Consequently, most tolerate being abused.

Still, Terry doesn’t see how he might make a bigger contribution in this situation than he ever could as a famous boxer—one who sought his own fame and profit over a meaningful life. When our value depends on making an impression rather than contributing great things in our community, we can grow dispirited, without heart and hope.

Here’s an example of the conversation of egoic-regret, rancor, blame and his current feelings of ordinariness.

Charlie: “Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed 168 pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.”

Terry: “It wasn’t him, Charlie, it was you! Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’ You remember that? ‘This ain’t your night!’ My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.”

Charlie: “Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.”

Terry: “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charlie.”

Though this is a work of fiction, it has great resonance with many of us. Sometimes we blame others for our despair or resign ourselves to the smallest version of ourselves to avoid embarrassment, failure, discomfort or ridicule.

Clients in search of life direction (especially after age forty) often wonder what they might have been had they only applied themselves in school or after college. Instead, they chose the easier, softer, safer way; the way of their peers or the “familiar” way—the choices their family-of-origin thought was more impressive or worse, practical.

Famous dancer Martha Graham reminds us that we must listen to our deepest calling, the truth of who we are and bring this authenticity (our being) into the world of doing. She writes,

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique…. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” ~ Martha Graham

Before we can affirm, even authorize the next stage in our lives, we need to affirm the first half, no matter what choices we have made or have not made when we were younger.

So many of us find ourselves moving as fast as bumble bees in search of honey–seeking that golden ring of “better than the present.” Pausing and reflecting, as Socrates reminds us to do for a “life worth living,” can be a way to turn around unrewarding habits of regret and despair for creating a more enlivening future.

It’s especially heart-warming—especially on Labor Day—to know that Terry, eventually wakes up to his true potential. He comes to see that his struggle for fame could morph into something more useful not only for himself but for those around him. He uses his heart to give him the guts to organize his peers to stand up to their corrupt bosses thus enabling them all to receive better working conditions and more-adequate pay.

How might we turn our lives, and our sites for income, toward a more worthy and rewarding focus? Don’t we all have “bigger fish to fry” than our own personal profit/ego?

It can be a challenge to think of the good of the whole when we’re feeling financially desperate or personally despairing about a less-than-ideal past. My motto is much like the book by Martha Sinetar, Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. I say, Do What You Love to do for others, the Money Will Follow.

What you love to do for others needn’t be a form of martyrdom. As Harold Thurman Whitman says: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”

What do you love to do for others that brings you the most joy? Do that and I promise you a rich and enlivening future beyond your wildest dreams.

Keep your mind open, experiment, and let me know how it goes. If you need my support to hang in there in this experiment, please contact me and we’ll see what we can create together.

Life Design Unlimited

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