I read an article this morning on the Washington Post website (remember when we said in the newspaper?) entitled “Dying at your desk is not a retirement plan.” It was a great article that highlighted the dual problem of wanting to be comfortable after the paycheck stops coming in, yet also be able to enjoy life without worrying about the future, whenever you choose to walk away. The article was practical, and good, but it was also technical and led me to think of a slightly different message: why not have both.
Humans have a tendency to look at things in terms of choices. I can have this if I give up that, or I can get this if I don’t do this. Life feels like it works that way, but it really doesn’t. We choose to frame it that way because it is the way the world is presented to us, and how we interact with it. Going way back to eight grade, I remember the state of Illinois required us to have an economics unit that taught us how to have a job, manage a checkbook, and so on. I was a lawyer, the District Attorney if I recall. I passed it because I read my father’s book on law (at twelve) and was able to pass the test. The unit taught me about managing money, which in fairness it was designed to do, but it didn’t really teach me about how to manage life. I am still looking for that comprehensive course that does that.
Life is a set of complex choices, creating balance within ourselves as well as amongst the people, organizations, and other entities we deal with every day. But the choice doesn’t have to be 55, 65 and all the rest of the years we live. We don’t start living after we retire. We start living when we are born. Yes, when you don’t have to balance the 9-5 with everything else you do in your life, a certain ease creeps in. Trust me as an author and entrepreneur, there is a coolness about working from my own office, being my own boss, and making (and being held accountable to) my own decisions. It doesn’t mean I might not choose to do something different one day, something more akin to the world I lived in before I went for this path, but it does represent a decision I made to start living now. I have more time with my family and friends, a sense of ownership of my destiny, and know that I am creating a legacy for my children that shows them anything is possible – especially when the only one defining your world is yourself.
I think it is critically important to plan for the future. I believe we should all be working through our retirement accounts to make sure we don’t have to die at our desks. At the same time, while I certainly advocate for being a net saver, there is so much world out there to see and explore that I can’t bring myself to accept that I have to wait until I am 55, or 65, in order to do so. There are things I will appreciate more when I am older, like when I return to Asakusa in Japan and remember fondly of when a monk there helped me understand my potential. Or when I return to Paris 30 years after I saw the Eiffel tower in a countdown to the new millennium all lit up – before I grabbed a cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe and just watched people. I enjoyed them as a young man, I am pretty sure I will appreciate them differently as I get older.
The point is I didn’t wait, and neither should you. Life is for the living, and you can either let it happen to you, or you can happen to it. My advice is to plan and save, think about the future – but don’t stress on it. Don’t miss the moments in between because you’re so focused on what happens down the road. The best gift we can give to ourselves is mindfulness – living in the present and appreciating the beauty around us. The worst thing we can do is to ignore those things because we’re trying to think three moves ahead.
Some practical advice:
- Plan a vacation. Every year. Go someplace you have never been every three years. It will expand your mind.
- Go out to dinner. Saving is great – and I do advocate for it – but so is that special night out with a loved one or many just to reconnect. These are the types of moments we’re trying to capture.
- Be mindful. That’s a hard one in our technology driven culture, but even going outside for 30 minutes a day can be helpful. Don’t think about the 30 – think about the 1, then the 2 and the 3. What do you notice in the moment you are in, rather than worrying about what you will do when you get home.
- Step away. Make a commitment to walk away from what you have to do in order to enjoy what you would like to do every once in a while. We all feel the pressure to compete and to succeed. I am recommending we all think a little differently about what that means.
There is nothing easy about defying conventional wisdom, but there is a whole lot of joy that comes from it. No one knows how to define your life, so don’t let them try. By that I mean have the courage to make the decision for yourself. Be careful, but be courageous. Maybe that trip to Bora Bora isn’t as far off as you think.