How often have you heard the saying, “Our life is what we make it”? But what does it mean?
- To build a career doing work that’s, at best, mediocre in order that we can save for retirement and then do all the things we’ve deferred?
- To live for now whatever the consequences?
- To build an empire of things to keep us from seeing who we are?
- To eat and drink whatever we like?
- To do as little physical exercise as we can get away with?
- To spend nothing on developing our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being?
OK, perhaps the list is (slightly!) jaundiced not to say narcissistic but it’s what we see and hear every day. Let’s face it, if it were otherwise, so many professions would have no trade i.e. certain strands of medicine and those of the self-help variety.
The truth of the matter is that no one wants to be told how to live their life, but it doesn’t say much about us as a species that we play for such short odds. (In a way, given our ‘always on’ lifestyle it’s a wonder that we’re living longer, but science is a wonderful thing.)
Like you, I’ve read my fair share of personal development books and articles. They can be summed up in two words: get better. The problem is that even when we have a vision for how we want our lives to be, very few of us are willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to change the status quo.
Take something like minimalism. Perhaps it was the timing of the crash, but over the last few years there’s been a lot more written about the taboo of living with largesse and how living a minimalist lifestyle can have profound meaning. But, perhaps it’s my circles of friends and acquaintances, but I don’t see people keeping up with a regimen of decluttering, living simply and making do. The talk, tempered as it is with the fragile nature of the recovery, is more or less about a return to the pre-2008 days where growth was the order of the day.
What about the need to escape cubicle nation, e.g. setting up a business of your own, as a way of self-development, happiness and pursuing the dream? Again, I don’t see much evidence of new entrants to the self-employed ranks. In fact, it’s a rare thing these days that I meet someone who espouses a desire to start their own business. The talk is all about employment, security of tenure and the benefits post retirement. (Look at our school system. The premise is always about working for someone else not grooming a cabal of entrepreneurs.)
And what about physical exercise? Without wishing to sound smug (of course, you already know that it’s going to sound that way), I’ve been a lifelong exercise addict and it’s the thing that has made the greatest difference to my life in so many ways:
- Health benefits. Check.
- Friendships. Check.
- Pure enjoyment. Check.
In fact, when I look back on my love of physical recreation and sport, I realise that there’s never been a time in my life where I haven’t take exercise of one type or another. For the last 14 years my drug of choice has been cycling. Oh sure, I cycled as a kid, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that I decided to invest in a Trek road bike, and since then I’ve never looked back. (Even though sport was always a way for me to give an outlet to my competitive self, as I’ve grown older it’s been much more a battle with my mind and body. Approaching the age of 50, I can see why so few people take regular exercise. It’s hard. And we seem hard-wired to want to sit, which is at odds with our original pedigree as hunter-gatherers where if we didn’t move our buts off the couch, we would starve. If I have an approach to effective and regular exercise, it’s quite simple; namely not to think about the need to exercise. At times, I would like it to be better structured but when I do exercise I don’t give my mind time to creep up on me and talk me out of what I’m about to do. I get dressed as quickly as I can and just do it in that moment.)
I can’t stress enough the power of exercise. It’s transformative and life-changing.
But perhaps my biggest gripe is investment in the self – the spiritual, emotional and educational.
For reasons that still allude me, we seem intent (yes, we set out with a positive intention) on limiting our growth. I’m not suggesting that life itself is not a wonderful teacher but if you think how narrow the focus of education is, why do we insist on curtailing our learning the moment we take our last exam?
Just imagine how different things would be if we read one book a month on a new subject or went to an evening class every week or studied online? For many people they would prefer to spend their money elsewhere, and of course that’s their prerogative, but for the amount of time you hear how unhappy people are at work etc, you would have thought that the easiest way to redress the balance was to stay curious, explore and learn something new. If nothing else, it might prove a worthy distraction to the day-to-day monotony of life.
In reading the foregoing, you might be left with a sense that I’ve given up on the human race – “to hell with them”. But you would be wrong. If anything, it’s completely the other way: I have this overriding sense of the possible; namely we’re all possessed of genius but so few of us want to believe in our potential that, in the end, we settle for something far less than we’re capable of. And that’s fine. But the thing is there will always exist those few individuals who show us by dint of their actions what is truly possible.
When you next come to consider where you spend your time and money, consider not just the return on investment but the value of life itself, which is our greatest gift.