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 three 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.
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.