Paul Ramakers: Are you leading the life you want to live?

On 19 February 2019, Paul Ramaker’s life changed forever. What appeared to be a harmless calcified bruise on his leg turned out to be a malignant tumour. A leg amputation then followed. As well as the awareness that his life over the past several years had revolved solely around high-performance. At the expense of his family, colleagues, friends and he himself. Paul resigned from his job before his surgery and has been travelling the world ever since in pursuit of his mission: creating a world where people can be completely themselves.

Last April, Paul was on the stage of 24 Uur in Bedrijf, where he shared his story on the ‘value of will’ in front of 150 entrepreneurs. Why do we do so many things we really don’t want to do? And why do we NOT do those very things that do make us very happy? We discussed that with Paul.

Text Colette de Vries
Image Saskia Kropff

Why do we so easily hand over the reins of our lives?”
“We allow ourselves to get all wound up by everything going on around us. All those plasters we stick on just to avoid looking at ourselves; a big car, another holiday, staring at a screen night after night. It all distracts us from who we really are. Everywhere we turn, we are forced into boxes. It starts as early as primary school. You become less and less yourself and fit into a standard mould. It is very difficult to stand up for yourself and move in the other direction.”

“The mirror that was held up in front of me when my own mortality was just waiting around the corner made it incredibly simple. When you look death in the eye, a lot of what seemed important suddenly doesn’t matter. Then you delve into the core of your being: what is really important to me? Truly focusing on yourself instead of concentrating on the external. Making money is one way of living a nice life. But when money gradually becomes the end rather than the means, you no longer have a nice life. Imagine if your life were to end in a year’s time. Would you keep on doing what you’re doing now?”

Who or what is still sometimes behind the steering wheel of your life?
“My high-performance drive. I’m often working on the next step in my head. That competitive nature is still in me. Things always have to be better and bigger, which means I don’t always enjoy the moment enough. So every day I say to myself: ‘Where I am now is exactly where I need to be. Today will go the way today is supposed to go.’ And all the lessons I have to learn are right there. What’s good is good.”

Finding the way to your true self is not easy. What is your golden tip?
“Many people don’t know exactly what they want. They find that to be a difficult question. We keep gathering knowledge, reading books, watching videos, going on retreats. All of that is made easy for you: ‘sit back and enjoy the ride’. The trick is to discover the value of ‘the big nothing’. Enjoying a low-stimulus space. Everyone has time for that. It’s a question of just making a plan and doing. Contemplating your life without distraction, or better yet: feeling it. How was my past week. What did I like about it? What do I want to do differently next week, and who can help me with that? Slow down, downsize, simplify, that’s what we have to do. Relax a bit every day and check in with yourself.”

Lessons learned young set the stage for the future. What tips do you have for parents?
“We make it far too easy on our children by solving all of their problems for them. We do that out of love, of course. Give your child the space to learn by letting them face challenges and solve problems on their own. This is how they learn to do what they want to get done themselves. Of course, as a parent, you’re there for your child and help when asked. Try to solve less and support your child more in finding their own solution.”

You’re a man on a mission. When will you consider your mission a success?
“I hope people will start consciously taking out time for themselves. Everyone is the owner of their own life. But is that reflected in the choices you make? Fortunately, the generation after me is much more aware of the notion of time and what they spend it on. There really is a wildfire spreading now. If that group continues to grow, in time the majority will be doing things differently. Own the situation! Even if it’s only about something small. Anything is better than staying stuck in the victim role.”

Last question: are you now living the life you want?”
“I’m sitting here with you now and we’re having a good conversation together on a nice terrace. Soon I’ll be standing in the schoolyard getting hugs from my children. What more do I want? I’ve gotten exactly what I needed today.”

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