Stephen Hawking’s improbable long life contributed innumerable lessons not only in physics but life in general. Our fields couldn’t be more different but most of the words I need to hear at this point in my life can be learned by looking back into his life. He did not share much about his personal life when he was alive except for his memoir, ‘My Brief History’ and his ex-wife’s account of their time together ‘Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen’ which was made into the film, ‘The Theory of Everything.’
I re-watched ‘The Theory of Everything’ and got reminded of some bits of lessons I think we should take away from Mr. Hawking’s existence and Jane Hawking’s time with him.
You’re stronger than other people think you are. In the film, Jane said to Stephen’s father that even though she doesn’t look terribly strong, she’s going to fight the illness with Stephen. Most times, we’re going to underestimate our capabilities and more often than that, people will have far worse estimation than ours. Let other people worry about our shortcomings while we work on improving our lives and making ourselves stronger.
Will makes everything possible. Hawking had a two-year life expectancy and instead of giving up and waiting for time to pass, he made use of his valuable and limited time to pursue his dreams, no matter how hard and seemingly impossible it was. He had two years to live and lost all motor controls of his body. We, on the other hand, have a lifetime ahead of us. No one can control the forces of the universe but we are at least in control of our body. When times get rough, we always say ‘It’s too late’ or ‘I’ll never be able to do that’ but if ALS and poor prognosis didn’t stop a brilliant man to reach for the stars, what’s our excuse for not pursuing our dreams?
No matter how much support you get, you’re going to be alone in most of your struggles. It’s true that no man is an island but people have their own problems to worry about. We should not hesitate to ask for help if we are in terrible need. We must see it as a sign of bravery and not of weakness but it’s inevitable to walk through life alone. We were born alone, we will die alone, and in most of our time on earth, we must face life alone. The boiling water that makes potatoes soft is the same water that makes an egg harder. These times of loneliness does the same thing to a person. This is the time to see what we’re made of. This is the time to test our limits and to surpass things we didn’t know we were capable of.
Happiness doesn’t just happen. You have to search for it. This will sound ironic but Mr. Hawking didn’t just sit around and waited for things to happen to him. No matter how severely incapacitated he was. It didn’t stop him from actively living his life and willingly accepting the challenges that it comes with. Embracing the bumpy ride and troubles, learning from it, and getting fulfillment by sharing your experiences with the world is what makes life worth living. That’s why it’s called the pursuit of happiness and not sitting around and waiting for happiness.
The last and probably the most important lesson comes from Mr. Hawking himself. Remember to look up a the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.