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Notes from Death of a Salesman

Last night I attended a production of Death of a Salesman at the Footlight Players Theatre

Here are some thoughts and takeaways from my viewing.

1. Think about your career in terms of “Windows of opportunity.”

What’s hot right now might not be hot in the future. Today’s connections may be no good tomorrow. The people and practices that were good enough to get you where you are might not be sufficient to sustain you at a later time.

Don’t take your talents, opportunities, and potential for granted. Seize the day and leverage it for all its worth.

Your time to shine might not be as timeless as you think.

2. “Attention must be paid.”

These were the words spoken by Linda Loman to her two boys about the gradual and easy to overlook decline being suffered by their father. They also serve as words of caution for our own lives.

Each day presents a choice-point between what is right and what is easy. The losses and gains of life are rarely dramatic. In order to live with agency, attention must be paid to the things that seem to demand our attention the least.

3. Be honest with yourself

We all have a story. We find freedom and peace by taking responsibility for the stories we tell and by using our storytelling abilities to enhance our lives, not escape from them.

4. Vulnerability is universal

It’s easy to tell ourselves a story like “If you do all the right things and make all the right decisions, everything will go well,” but unanticipated suffering is part and parcel of life.

To cope with suffering, we have to accept that it comes with the territory. Vulnerability is not an outrage. It’s the human condition.

5. We are not our dreams

We all have dreams and we should pursue them to the best of our ability, but there’s more to life than our ability to live the ideal. It’s easy to love ourselves when it feels like we’re winning, but we have to learn to love ourselves even when we don’t turn out to be the people we thought we’d become.

6. Know who you are (or at least try to figure it out)

At one moment, Willie Loman’s oldest son Biff utters the following words:

“I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been….Why am I trying to become what i don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!?”

So much of our struggling is the result of our striving to live a story that doesn’t belong to us.

While it’s easy to condemn those who spend their whole lives trying to become what they’re not, it’s harder than it looks. Eventually, all of us will be tested by time and temptation. In these moments, we have to fight to remember (or recognize) what is truly capable of sustaining us.

When you see someone who appears to be losing that battle, don’t be so quick to say “Look at the old fool selling his soul for easy answers.” It’s better to be mindful of your own forthcoming battle.

7. “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds”

These were words spoken to Willy by his older brother Ben who challenged him to leave his comfort zone and take some entrepreneurial risks.

Those words haunted Willy throughout his life. Were better possibilities waiting for him? That’s a question each person has to answer for themselves.

The phrase refers to the rare treasures discoverable by those who dare to embrace the wildness of the unknown and unconventional. Later on, it develops a darker meaning as Willy’s doubt about his own life choices deepens.

One possible lesson here: wrestle with the tough questions early. We all have a dark jungle to face if we want to find the meaning of our own existence. Best to face it sooner rather than later.

8. Have a little empathy

None of us will turn out to be everything we thought we’d be. None of us are perfect. None of us win every important battle. We all have a little good in us. In some sense, we’re all doing the best we know how.

The more we can practice remembering this with others, the more hope we have of remembering this for ourselves.

I may have to do this exercise again in ten years. It’ll be interesting to see how more experience will shape my views about the life of the Loman family (and my own).

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