How many of years of your life would you like to enjoy? Two? Twenty-five? Or maybe more?
Here’s a scary statistic for you. An actuarial study of longevity found that people who work hard up until the age of retirement (65) tend to live about two years after retirement. TWO. As in, 2. As in, 24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days. Conversely, study findings showed that those that retire before the age of 55 tended to live much longer, enjoying more than 25 years of life after retirement. The theory is that those who retired at 65 had put a lot of strain on their bodies and those that retired at 55 were better able to manage stress and retire comfortably.
The first thing I thought when I read the results of this study is how often I’ve heard somebody say, or how often I myself have said, “Sure, I’m working hard and I’m totally stressed out now, but I need to work hard now so I can enjoy my life someday.”
I know so many people (counting myself among them) that have taken jobs or even embarked on entire careers with the thought that the hard work and sacrifice they put it now will all be worth it when they sip margaritas and sink their toes into the sand in the Mexican Riveria after retirement. I know plenty of people (like me) who have experienced Sunday Night Depression but have consoled themselves with the thought that the drudgery of The Job was worth it because someday they’d have a chance to retire and enjoy all the fruits of their labor. I don’t know anyone who thinks that they only deserve two years of enjoyment after all their hard work, though.
We say, “I want to work hard and earn money so I can go do what I want…” but … what if we can do what we want NOW?
This brings me to a popular and oft-quoted story that beautifully illustrates the joy of living in the present moment. It goes like this:
The Parable of the Fisherman and the Banker
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Many (or perhaps even most) of us don’t have the luxury of deciding to retire at the age of 55 in order to ensure a longer retirement period. Further, we don’t even know if we’ll have the privilege of living until the age of 55, let along 65 or later. Life is anything but certain. The key question, then, is this: What do we need to do to enjoy our lives right now, just as they are?
The feeling I get from posing this question is one of empowerment. I don’t have to wait to be happy. I don’t have to put my passions on the sidelines. I can find ways to nurture my dreams today, and find pleasure and fulfillment in the little things that are true, and real, and not so little after all.
I want to enjoy my life today, just as it is. So, today, I’m going to sip green tea on my back porch. I’m going to wear my favorite pair of earrings. I’m going to play a song or two on the piano. I’m going to write a blog, and read a chapter or two of a novel. I’m going to hold my husband’s hand when we walk around our sweet little neighborhood. I’m going to grill some corn and slather it with butter and cilantro grown from my garden.
I don’t know if I’ll get to “someday,” but I can make “someday” today.