Strange isn't it, how you can work your arse off for decades without really knowing why?
Sure, there are the obvious reasons like buying a house, getting hitched, paying bills, advancing your career, building a business or striving for an early retirement.
But have you ever thought more deeply about these ‘first layer' items to ask why? Then the next layer and the next? As Earl Nightingale said in his famous 1950s recording, The Strangest Secret, “Everyone wants something, and everyone is afraid of something.”
The way that applies to you and me is, we're all striving to enhance our lives or minimise the presence of pain. The trouble is, the way we define these two things often only skims the surface; never advancing beyond the superficial.
I'll give you an example. Say you're working 60 hours a week for your company because you believe your next promotion requires a certain level of demonstrated commitment. Why do you want the promotion in the first place? If it's more money you seek, then why? If it's prestige and recognition then why do you want that? If the money affords you more choices in life, what choices would you make and why?
These might sound like the questions of a petulant 6-year-old, but they deserve some answers.
How much are the things that drive your behaviour rooted in values you've adopted (often blindly) from your family, your peers or friends? Will the outcomes – good and bad – support the life you wish for yourself?
I've seen enough evidence to know that so much of what we think we want doesn't deliver what we want at all. If anything, they take us further away from it. And the worst of it is, we teach the same crap to our kids; the endless pursuit of more.
My father worked like a dog for almost 50 years. He never had a mortgage. Instead, he and mum worked and saved till they could buy a small plot of land. On this block, they built a single room in which to live. They cooked, slept and relaxed in that little room, along with my baby sister. The neighbours thought they were mad. With each pay packet, they added another wall, a window, a bit more of the framework; until one day they had a whole house, which they owned free and clear.
An afternoon's entertainment consisted of walks along the beach looking for coins to buy a couple of ice creams. They never felt poor. While all their friends plunged deeper into debt, my folks were stoic in their thriftiness.
They travelled, tended their garden and raised two kids. We never had much in the way of material possessions but as my mum would often say as she gazed out to the beach on our afternoon walks, “Look at this. Look how rich we are!”
Life was good, yet my dad continued to work very hard. His hands were permanently swollen from the daily abuse. Every nail in every dwelling he ever built, he drove in by hand with the same hammer. For decades!
Dad believed this was what he was supposed to do. Yet all that time, he'd actually wanted to be a forest ranger. He loved the bush. Over the years, he and I spent countless weekends camping, walking and trail riding in the Victorian High Country but those weekends were never long enough.
The irony is, he now lives in the middle of the bush, doing pretty much what he'd always wanted but denied himself over those 50 years. He lives very comfortably on a fraction of the income he once earned. The simple fact is, he could have done it about 20 years earlier. The only thing holding him back was a set of beliefs he'd adopted from his old man who told him he'd never amount to anything. How sad. How very common.
So getting back to the question, “What's the point?”, the real question you should be asking yourself is, “What do I really want from my life?”
As I've said (and keep repeating), your biggest mistake is you think you have time. No one's going to fill in the blanks for you. Ask the man in the mirror. What are his Most Important Things? Discuss them with your partner. Talk them over with your kids. Be frank; be honest; be vulnerable. Recognise that yes, as long as you're responsible for those who need you, some compromises will be made. But understand too, that a life unfulfilled or the life of a martyr doesn't serve the world as effectively as a life filled with energy, wonder and genuine accomplishment. You needn't abandon your dreams entirely in order to fulfil your obligations as a father or a husband.
Living authentically, deliberately and caring for those you love needn't be mutually exclusive. When I was struggling through a loveless marriage, a close friend said to me, “You're never going to be a great father to your kids if you're miserable and depressed. Sooner or later, you'll have to uphold your values; the things that are most important to you and get back on the path of authenticity.” Iain's advice was invaluable at the time and it forced me to ask important questions about my values – what I'd accept and what I couldn't.
Give some careful thought to what the point is for your own life. Assemble your personal list of MITs, knowing that time invested doing this will be one of the most important steps you'll ever take as you blaze your own trail to a better, more purposeful life.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope we get to hang out more in the future. And in the meantime, please feel free to share your own experiences. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I respond to all emails.
Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist and I'm not a financial advisor's elbow. This material doesn't constitute financial advice but it is a collection of personal opinions, based on my own experiences.
Also published on Medium.