Four key life-lessons we can draw from this glimpse into the pain of a man we thought we knew.
Robin Williams' death shocked many of us. It's always shocking to glimpse the depth of another person's vulnerability and pain — particularly when it's someone we've admired and placed on a pedestal. But it's a very important kind of shock to feel — a good shock, if we let ourselves learn from it.
Why? Because it's so easy to move through life imagining that other people have it somehow better or easier than we do — especially if they're _________ (fill in the blank: richer, more talented, thinner, more attractive, etc.), than we are.
So when someone as gifted, famous and wealthy as Robin Williams sinks so low that he chooses to end his own life, what does that say about our own frailties, yours or mine? Our own flirtations with grief, self-pity and despair?
Here's some of what it says to me:
- It's critically important for us to be kind to ourselves, and also to each other. All of us are more fragile than we know. If you're habitually harsh with yourself — or with others — make a commitment right now to change that way of being. It takes practice and intention, but it is eminently doable. (And if you need some help in the self-love department, apply for a free introductory session with the best self-love coach I know!)
- It's essential for all of us to know — and to show — our authentic, unvarnished selves. Jamie Masada, a friend of Williams, says, "He was always in character. I knew him for 35 years, but I never knew him." It's hard not to imagine that a deep sense of aloneness contributed to Williams' suicide. We can't do anything about his aloneness — but we can do something about ours. Every day, we can choose to take small risks to reveal what we really think, feel, want and fear to someone else. Scary? Maybe. Yet invisibility is ultimately harder on our hearts.
- It's time for us to call our projections home. Projections are fantasies, negative or positive, that we hold about other people. We all see ourselves as better than some people, and inferior to others. And we all get hurt by it. It's time to stop assuming anyone's life is better, easier, or happier than yours (or, for that matter, worse, harder, or sadder than yours, too), and instead cultivate an attitude of open-hearted curiosity toward others, whoever they may be.
- This is also a great time for us to renew or cement our commitment to life on earth. For many of us, this is a tough one. There's plenty to complain about on this troubled planet! Yet that actually makes it even more important for us to decide: are we in or out? Are we committed to living out our purpose, doing whatever it is our spirits came here to do? Are we willing to say yes to life?
As I describe in my book, Soul on Earth: A Guide to Living & Loving Your Human Life, my own struggle with saying yes has taught me a great deal about the suffering we cause ourselves when we withhold that commitment. In essence, it keeps us in a vicious cycle. Remaining physically alive without saying a wholehearted yes to life is like trying to drive while pressing both the brake and gas pedals. It deeply affects what we can feel, experience and create.
So once again, if we can glean anything of value from Robin Williams' death, I suggest:
- Be kind to yourself — and to others.
- Show your true self to at least one other person each day.
- See past the haze of your projections.
- And say Yes to life. Even the tough stuff. All of it.
We're in this together!