Later... a journey through life
Every morning that you open your eyes and you are healthy is a gift and should be treated like that. Of course, I did not know it until I got a call from my niece in the middle of the night. My precious and only sister had a massive brain aneurysm and was in hospital in Athens about to be operated in a bid to save her life. I rushed to her bedside but she never regained consciousness and died a month later, without being able to say goodbye. She was only 49 years old.
During that month, I had a lot of time to ponder life and how unfair it can be. Her non existence made me feel small, vulnerable and insignificant. Coming face to face with the inevitable and irreversible, suddenly and brutally muddled my core belief. The belief that I will live for ever. This is not as silly as it sounds, and I bet you and almost everyone else has the exact same belief. Protest all you want, I can prove it!
Unless you think that you are going to live for ever, why are you still going to a job your hate every day? Since 2000, Gallup has polled millions of employees from nearly 200 countries about their level of job “satisfaction.” Overall, Gallup found that only 15% of workers feel a sense of “passion” for and “deep connection” to their work. 62% of workers are unhappy but not drastically so and 23% pretty much hate their jobs. Considering that an average life is 725,000 hours (82 years) then a person with a long career will spend half of this time at work and 45% of it eating, sleeping and taking care of life admin.
Want more proof? 30% of people languish in unhappy marriages. Think about it. They spend the best years of their lives with someone who makes them unhappy.
Here is another interesting graph. Almost 90% of people have a passion for art, sport and music. Less than 2% choose a career that follows their passion. Is it just the money, or do they think that there will be time to pursue their passion “later”?
The sudden death of my sister made me look at my life completely differently. Striving, striving, striving every day, a slave to making more money and being financially secure. When was I going to spend that money? My thinking never got that far. I was so busy that I outsourced to babysitters and childminders as much of my children’s early years as possible and I had zero patience with any underachievers which included my husband and a good number of my friends. “It will all come together later”, I used to think. Later, later, later….
As I inexorably marched towards the one and only destination that we all reach eventually, I blindly put off simple pleasures and current happiness for some unspecified date in the future.
Now I am very clear that there may not be a later. That life is short in the best of circumstances and can be extremely short in the worst. Assigning any kind of severity, thought or time to what kind of doorknobs you will buy vs spending that time to sit on the grass on a sunny day and take in the beauty that surrounds you, is nothing short of criminal.
We all have heard the old adage “make every day count”, but have we digested what it means? Clearly not, or we would see brightness and colour all around us from those who were following it closely. For many of us the pursuit of happiness is not only in the future, but it is also deeply misguided. Equating future happiness with financial success can lead to a seriously unhappy existence.
Taking it one step further and raising the financial success bar far above what is needed for a wonderful life is plain stupid. Many of us do that without realising it. As we chase these superfluous goals the trap closes and a good life escapes our grasp.
I have a good friend who is a very successful executive. She rose through the ranks, married her childhood love, had a wonderful son who is now financially independent and bought the house of her dreams in the country. All this by her early 50s. We see each other once a year because she is so busy. She leaves her beautiful, mortgage free home every morning at 5am, in the dark, and travels to a job she has grown to hate. She battles relentlessly with the younger generation of executives who want her job and returns home late at night exhausted. She does not hide her unhappiness every time we meet and promises to quit after that year’s annual bonus, “later”…
Later… I owe my sister a favour because she opened my eyes to the truth in a very shocking, yet effective way. Later is a mirage, today is what counts and I try to remember this several times a day. My life has been transformed as a result, and I hope that when the end comes it will be a natural close to a circle rather than a nasty and unexpected surprise.