February 25, 1943 — November 29, 2001

There’s More than One Way of Being Remembered

Three Lessons from George Harrison

By Maria for Ekko

When thinking about our own mortality, we often say to ourselves that it is not how many years we live that matters, but how we fill this time with meaningful experiences. Writing, building and creating things that will help and inspire people are ways of marking our presence on Earth. Yet, the feeling that we are stuck in routines in school, at work or at home can hinder our search for significance and fulfillment. That’s why it is important to look around us, keep an open mind and take alternative routes if necessary.

The story of George Harrison is a great illustration this power of embracing novelty and breaking conventions. A closer look at his biography shows that, through his hard work, persistence and wide range of interests, George Harrison managed to outgrow “the quiet Beatle” label. Three aspects of his life can serve as examples of what we can do to make our stories endure after we are gone.

1. Embrace alternatives to formal education

George Harrison was critical about school because he saw it as an institution that used fear as a teaching tool. He interrupted his studies at 16 and started playing and recording with the Beatles. He learned to play the guitar and to write songs by working with his band mates and with other friends, like Tony Sheridan. In India he learned to play the sitar with the maestro Ravi Shankar. In time he developed a personal style becoming, according to Rolling Stones, number 11 on the list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

This life lesson can be followed in various other contexts. If you feel that what you want in life can’t be achieved in formal educational and work contexts don’t be afraid to take a different path. Take the time to figure out what you want, think about how your work makes you feel, learn from a mentor, study on your own. A school diploma is not the only way to go.

2. Innovate and experiment

One of the most interesting aspects of George Harrison’s past as a musician comes from his involvement in Indian culture. He was interested in working with non Western instruments, such as the sitar and the swaramandal and brought Indian musical influences to the sound of the Beatles. Songs like “Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown)” and “Taxman” are examples of this revolutionary fusion between Indian music and rock and roll. This musical innovation also set an example of representing non European cultures in a respectful manner.

George Harrison’s openness to new sounds and his willingness to experiment with instruments and techniques show the importance of innovation. You need to see change as an opportunity to improve your life and the lives of those you care about. It is important not to be afraid to try new things and to look carefully around you. Take a risk once in a while, take an interest in something that is usually ignored or taken for granted. You might see something that others are missing.

3. Help those in need

The Beatles supported the civil rights movement of the 60s and spoke and acted against the Vietnam War. In the following decades, George Harrison continued his humanitarian work. His 1971 project, “Concert for Bangladesh” that was meant to raise money for the refugees during the Bangladesh Liberation War and to raise awareness of their situation was a forerunner of later benefit concerts. In 1973 he established the Material World Foundation that supports people with special needs as well as various forms of artistic expressions and life views.

Offering help to those around you, regardless of aspects like gender, nationality and sexual orientation is a beautiful way of leaving a positive mark behind you. You don’t need to be a rich rock star to do this. Help doesn’t come only in the form of money. Listen, empathize, give advice, food, shelter, clothes. Spend some time thinking about the needs of somebody else.

The journey of George Harrison shows us that building a life story that will stay forever in the memory of others does not require extraordinary qualities and abilities. It can be achieved with openness to alternative routes, desire to innovate and to experiment and willingness to help those around you. Take your time to reflect on how you want to build an enduring life story and keep in mind that it’s the process that matters.

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