Full transcript of British film-maker Patrick Ney’s TEDx Talk: The Day Before You Die – Why doing what really matters is so important at TEDxKazimierz conference.
Patrick Ney – British film-maker
What would you think about the day before you die? If you could look into the future and predict with absolute certainty how you’d feel about all of the life that you led, what would you do differently today?
Three years ago, I had my answer to that question answered in a brutal and a painful way. And it’s that story that I want to share today.
And I hope that, through my story, I’ll be able to help some or all of you answer that question before the day comes when you need to ask it of yourself.
My name is Patrick Ney. I grew up in the UK and I moved to Poland in 2010, to be with my then girlfriend Joanna. That relationship didn’t work out, but as we slowly fell out of love with each other, I fell in love with Poland.
“Why Poland?” It’s a question that everybody, especially Polish people, always asks.
The truth is I always felt that I didn’t choose Poland — Poland chose me. Something about this country, which has fought for freedom and against oppression and injustice for hundreds of years, just inspired me.
Something about the Polish people, who, in less than a quarter of a century, have rebuilt a crippled economy into one of the world’s biggest economies inspired me.
And from the moment that I set foot on Polish soil for the first time in 2007, I always had this feeling somewhere that I was going to be a little part of Poland’s future. You know, being an immigrant is tough.
When you come to a new country, you don’t speak the language, you haven’t got a job, you don’t have any friends, you’ve got no money, it’s a real challenge. And you find out who you really are, because you only can rely on yourself. And that’s why immigrants work so hard.
It’s simple: they have no choice.
So, living in Poland, I felt this deep need to communicate my story. And I started a blog, first of all in English, about my life in Poland, and then I started to blog in Polish, mainly as a way of testing my written Polish skills, which are still a bit ropy.
But luckily, we’re not checking that today.
And one day, on the 11th of November, 2014, I sat down to write a blog in Polish about Poland. I didn’t know what I was going to write. And instead of a blog, a poem just came out of me. I didn’t plan to write it. I know that I wrote it, but I can’t say that it was entirely written by me.
What is Poland?
Tradition, history, unity.
Respect for the elderly.
Hospitable, finagling, complaining, making things happen.
Pushing in line, registered residence, baking bread.
Where we celebrate, commemorate, argue, gossip.
Where we remember.”
And that poem, I then recorded a year later and put it up on Facebook and YouTube. I mean, in the space of about two weeks, that film had about a million views. And I had people writing to me from Poland and across the diaspora, telling me that it made them laugh, and then, later on, it made them cry.
And I had thousands of people telling me that it was amazing, that I was amazing! And that felt really, really good.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like, “Hey, maybe it wasn’t a stupid decision to come to this country. Maybe it makes sense.”
A few weeks later, I recorded this film about divisions in Polish society, asking the question, “Why is it that we are so divided as a nation?” And that film got 55 million views on Facebook and YouTube, and again, thousands of people writing to me, saying it was something that had really touched them.
So at that point in my life, I realized, you know, I’m pretty good at this. It’s nice, getting this feeling when people write to me. It’s amazing, being able to touch that many people’s lives, even if only for a moment. And maybe this is my purpose and my passion.
However, when you’re a video content creator — does anyone here create video content? Yeah, so you know and you know and you know that when you produce a video, you’re only really as good as your last video. And if it sucks, you kind of sit there thinking, “Damn! I’ve got to do another one.” And the likes go away, the comments go away, the shares go away and you feel a little bit empty inside and you’ve always got the hunger to do more. True? Am I right?
Yeah, I’m seeing nodding heads. The problem is that you end up doing anything basically just to keep the show going. And at a certain point in my video career, I started doing content like this… (Music, animal noises) It’s recently come to my attention that Polish animal noises are a bit strange… (Pig oinking) I own that pig, by the way. It’s called Percy.
I actually quite like that video. It got 60,000 views on Facebook by the way. So if you guys are looking for inspiration, you can go with something like that. But it’s not something I’m necessarily going to be very proud of.
And then, one day, I went to the pub, to watch the Polish Cup game between Legia Warsaw and Lech Poznań — I couldn’t get a ticket. And I didn’t come home.
I regained consciousness in the emergency room of a neurosurgical ward. And I was tired, I was confused, I was disoriented and I didn’t know what had happened.
And the doctors came to me and explained that I’d been attacked, and that I had a severely fractured skull. They’d hit me with some kind of blunt instrument on the side of the head.
And when your skull fractures, you get tears in the arteries inside your skull, and those arteries start to bleed and that blood has to go somewhere.
But there is no somewhere in between your skull and your brain. That place doesn’t exist.
So the blood starts to coagulate, come together, pull and get thicker and wider. And in my case, the blood that was starting to grow there, which we call a hematoma, was six centimeters wide, two centimeters deep, and pressing and pressing onto my brain.
And the doctors explained that when this blood is pushing onto your brain – it’s not supposed to be there – it causes all sorts of brain damage: movement problems, speech problems, memory problems. Not a pleasant experience.
So I’m lying there in this hospital, and I’m super-lucky that I even survived the attack. But I’ve got this hematoma pressing on my brain that, at any second, could damage me permanently. And the doctors suggested waiting for 10 days to see whether this hematoma would dissipate, dissolve, disappear.
And after 10 days, that hadn’t happened.
So then, they gave me a choice. Option A: “You can go home, Patrick, and you can wait it out. Basically, it might take a few months, but eventually, this hematoma might dissolve. But if you have any problems with your movement or your speech or your memory or anything like that, just come back on in to the hospital.”
It didn’t sound like a really attractive offer.
Option B: “You can have a craniotomy. That’s where they remove a section of the skull with an electric drill and then suction out the hematoma, replace the skull. It’s major surgery. It’s on the brain, it’s not a joke.” So that didn’t sound very good either.
So what would you do?
Option A, wait? Or option B, take the operation?
So whilst I’m lying there in this hospital, and I’m lucky to have made it through the attack, you can imagine that I spent a lot of time thinking. And it hit me like a bolt.
I just remember the exact moment I was lying there and I thought, “You know, all of the stuff that I was doing, all of the work that I was obsessed about before this attack, the amount of money I earned, the tasks I had to do, the battles I had to win at work – none of that mattered at that particular moment.
The only thing that mattered were the people I loved: my friends and my family. My little brother Jeremy who lived in the US – he couldn’t just drop everything and fly over.
My nephew Sam was one and a half, and I had to think, “Am I ever going to see this beautiful boy again?”
My parents, I just wanted to hold them, to see them again, to smell them, to touch their hands. And all of that could have been robbed from me because of that experience.
So, there’s the choice: Option A, wait, or option B, take the operation. And it hit me like a diamond. It was so clear to me then that the most important thing to me in that moment was love, the strength and the power of love, by which I mean the power and the strength of the relationships that we have between us.
I was lying in that hospital bed and in a room with four other men. And as I had this realization, as this truth came to me, as this absolute truth, this absolute clarity came to me, I understood for the first time that I loved them. I loved these strangers and I loved their families and I loved the doctors and I loved the nurses.
And I realized then, it was so obvious — in fact, it was in front of me at the time, I’d just never seen it before — that we are all connected by the power of love.
And as you sit here today, I can assure you that we are all connected to one another by the power of love. That was the truth for me.
It was as clear as day I’d just never seen it before.
So what would you do? Option A or option B? Well, I preferred to take action.
So, in the end, I chose option B. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it out, and if I did make it out, if I’d be the same person. There’s plenty of risks associated. It’s major surgery. It’s traumatic surgery.
So I wrote my farewell letters, I said my goodbyes, I made peace with myself and I swore that if I made it out in one piece, I would never forget that moment, that beautiful moment of clarity, my trust in the faith and power of love.
I would never forget that moment.
Well, as you can see, I’m still here. I made it out alive. A year later, my daughter Zofia was born. Two years later, I married the love of my life, Maja. Three years later, we are having our second kid. So, we’ve been busy.
And we’re moving house. And because of all those beautiful things that happened from that moment, when people ask me if I would do anything differently, if I wouldn’t go to the pub, I actually say no. There’s no way in hell I would ever exchange that experience for any one, because so many beautiful things have happened to me since then.
So many beautiful things.
And I’m so very, very glad to be alive, I can’t tell you. And I went home, I saw the sky again, I saw the colors again, I saw the sounds of life again, and slowly but surely, that feeling of certainty, that feeling of truth, just left me. It just faded into the background.
And I went back to the to-do list, I went back to the emails, I went back to work, I went back to filming.
I recorded a film about the cavalry captain Witold Pilecki, who volunteered to go into Auschwitz. I got 95 million views on Facebook. Again, thousands of people writing to me, telling me how wonderful I was, telling me how wonderful the film was.
But constantly, in the back of my mind, this guilt – because I had that moment of absolute clarity and absolute precision and I knew that I wasn’t living up to that particular moment.
Then, one day, I met a man called Peter. And what Peter and all the other coaches who I’ve worked with since that incident have helped me to understand is that the reason why I was making these films was mostly driven by my need for significance, my need to feel wanted, my need to feel valued.
And Peter helped me to understand, in just one meeting, that I didn’t need any of that, that didn’t need to guide me, that didn’t need to drive me. That wasn’t the reason I was fighting so hard every day, working so hard to produce these films.
The experience that I’d gone through had given me a north star. It had given me a true purpose. And I only needed to be faithful to that purpose to live my life in a better way.
So now, the films that I make, they have to have a higher intent. They have to, in some way, help other people to improve and strengthen their connections, their relationships and just create love.
And if I can only do that one thing, just that tone thing, then when I come to the end of my days again and I ask myself the question, “Was it worth it?”, this time, I hope the answer will be yes.
What would you think about the day before you die?
I want everybody in the room now to take a private moment and just ask themselves that very difficult question.
Here’s the good news, my friends. You already know the answer to that question. The only question remaining is: are you ready to listen to that answer?
Thank you very much.