Four basic human needs
To live, to learn, to love, to leave a legacy
Life isn't over yet
In the movie Wall Street Gordon Gecko is played by Michael Douglas. He is a cunning unprincipled multi-millionaire corporate raider. One day he speaks to a meeting of spellbound shareholders who are worried about a takeover bid. He declares,
ladies and gentlemen, greed for the lack of a better word is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all its forms greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind
Later in the film, Gordon's friend Bud asks,Tell me, Gordon where does it all end? how many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough? Thoreau the philosopher said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. In my conversations with my peers I hear this desperation expressed often. They suspect that the endless accumulation of things isn't quite enough. And as we rapidly approach middle age there is a sense of unease that perhaps we won't quite measure up. That we have missed the main thing and that our chances to get it right are rapidly passing us by.
I recently was talking to a friend who was expressing his dissatisfaction with life. In his mid forties he is moderately successful in business. He has a small business that he runs very efficiently, he has a loving wife, his family are rapidly growing the eldest two successful in their chosen fields and the younger three progressing well in their schools. In most ways his life looks together yet he constantly says,There must be something more?
What's wrong with Steve? He feels that he should be earning more. He feels that his business should be bigger. That he should be driving a better car. Life hasn't fulfilled the promise that it seemed to have in his twenties and thirties. He says that even beyond the financial side there is this unease that keeps gnawing at him and he's not quite sure what to do about it.
His disquiet strikes a cord in me although it is not quite as fully developed. I too feel a growing sense of urgency within myself. I am nearly forty. I still don't have a full time job. I am nust about to change jobs at the age of 43 and am not always sure if my qualifications will secure employment. I have four children aged six and under, this means that I will be sixty by the time that they might even think about leaving home. A friend told me that he never really started getting ahead financially until his kids had left home. That comment made me feel slightly sick in the stomach and I felt that sense of urgency once again. I will be left with approximately five years to save for my retirement which will not be nearly enough to save the $500 000 dollars or so that I will need to retire on.
Life has changed! I am no longer the care free adventurous young person I once was. I ask myself:
- What happened, who am I, where am I going?
- Have I wasted the first 25 years of my working life?
- Should I panic because we don't own our own home?
- Is it too late at 43 to find financial freedom?
Mark Levinson a psychologist says that for most people reaching forty there is some crisis. It is not hormonal or biological but it It is defined as a nothing period in our life where we are juxtaposed between the vitality of youth and the . Youth is seen as a time of vitality, daring, growth etc. old age is seen as a time of withering
Maybe I am asking the wrong questions? Tony Robbins in his book Awakening the Giant Within You says that we can change how we feel about our circumstances simply by changing our focus. By changing the focus of our questions we can change our perspective on our problems.
Stephen Covey in First Things First first chapter asks, How many people on their death bed wish they'd spent more time at the office? In this chapter he describes the tension that most of us feel between what we want to do and our responsibilities. I feel certain responsibilities as a Father, as a husband and as a member of society to contribute in worthwhile ways. Sometimes I feel that life is more about survival than the fulfillment of some of the things that I consider more worthwhile.
This dilemma was reflected in a recent conversation with a friend of mine said he was too busy at work. His weekly routine meant being there for up to 90 hours a week trying to keep things going at work. I said to him, but don't most people spend at least 90 hours a week doing something? Most of us sleep for around 42 to fifty hours a week and the rest of it we are doing some activity or the other.
I went on, What I think you're saying is that you are not happy with the way that your spending your time.
My friend's dilemma demonstrated to me the way many people perceive the way that they spend time. A lot of people think that each week they are not spending enough time doing what they really want to do. Locked in a vicious cycle of meeting financial commitments to maintain a certain standard of living life becomes a drudgery of working to maintain and gain things that are ultimately viewed as not having much value. Or we have no boundaries that divide ourselves from our work therefore work overtakes who we are. We find that we can't so no to new demands on our time or finances because we always say yes. Our attitude to retirement further reflects this tension we feel. Retirement becomes the opportunity to do the things that they want to do when freed from the tyranny of having to work. It is disappointing that we have to wait to the end of our life before we believe that we can start doing this.
In an American study of people over the age of 90 they were asked what three things they would change if they could have their lives over? The following three statements came up most often:
- They'd reflect more That is they would take more opportunities to step out the daily grind to thoughtfully examine the meaning and purpose of their lives. In doing this they would ensure that their energy was expended on worthwhile pursuits.
- They'd risk more Given their choice these elderly people would have taken more opportunities to step out of their comfort zone. They would take risks to explore more of what life offers and not accept that life was a rut.
- They'd invest more in things that will outlast themselves –
Jack Nicholoson in the movie as good as it get plays an obsessive compulsive man who lives to have everything in order. His neighbour's intrusions aggravate him. He gets so frustrated that he bursts into his psychiatrists waiting room and says to the group, Maybe this is as good as it gets.
Maybe there is an element of truth in that statement. There are some things that we can't change. More than likely I will turn 40 in a few months time. I won't be able to do some of the things that I used to do in my 20's and 30's. I probably won't become a millionaire by the time that I'm 45. I will have to support a wife and four children for at least the next 20 years.
What I can do is change my attitude to these things. The questions that I have been asking are from the wrong perspective. They encourage a negative perspective on my future, my ability to earn an income, the reasons why I earn and income and my attitude to work.
Rather than wondering how my life is half over I should be celebrating the experiences I have had so far. Instead of thinking that opportunities might be limited I can begin to embrace the future. My working life is half over but I can begin to capitalize on the experience that I have gained over the past 25 years of work. Financial freedom may not be found in having a better paying job or winning a million dollars but in changing my attitude to money.
Questions to ask of myself
- Write down five of the most significant questions that I have at the moment?
- Are they empowering questions or do they reflect confusion about what is important?
- How can you turn these questions around?
- Try rephrasing some of these to approach them positively?
At forty life isn't over yet. I sometimes think that my working life is nearly over. Yet logically I have another 25 years or more to constructively contribute and earn an income. There is still a future. We have to take control of that future and begin to shape it in a way that allows us to discover freedom.