Did you spend 2017 enjoying a tropical beach instead of working in a drab city?
If so, we might as well slide into the twilight of the year with some Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was no fan of, in his words, “spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”
Well, that is something to think about. And it’s apparently not a new situation, given that Thoreau published those words in 1854 in his best-known work, Walden.
I knew two people this year who, after toiling their entire lives to hit pension age, were felled by health problems shortly thereafter, and, well, that was the end.
Their so-called Golden Years never got to shine.
As an old country song said, “Work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Bony fingers.”
We might see work as the problem, but the absence of it isn’t always the solution.
For example, I’ve known my share of trust-fund babies who never had to work at all. You’d think that’s the ultimate recipe for happiness. Oddly enough, though, many of them were chronically unhappy.
Apparently, being un-tethered from situations where you have to cooperate with people (which is pretty much what work is) can lead to a very lonely road. When it comes right down to it, after all, nobody really has to deal with you.
So if working isn’t the answer, but not working isn’t the answer either, what next?
We can always turn to the comforting embrace of fantasy. I can’t help but noting that my fictional hero, the boat-dwelling Travis McGee, would take his retirement in little chunks whenever he had the money to lay back for awhile.
Then, fortuitously, whenever his stash of cash was getting thin, a beautiful, if somewhat troubled, damsel would appear on the scene needing McGee’s professional services.
That’s nice work if you can get it.
However, the supply of beautiful-but-troubled-damsels with lucrative capers that need solving is, as things turn out, pretty thin. Well, so much for my first career choice.
The closest I’ve come to meeting real life McGees has been in the tropics, which have long attracted those seeking a working life that has some gusto to it. This was my solution to the work conundrum, and that’s how I found Saipan back in the day. Alas, since those early days, I do get steered into cold places, but, given the way the Asia-Pacific market is tied together, I think a broad footing is better than a narrow one.
The hometown crowd back in cubicle world assumes that anyone who goes to the tropics is a goof-off, but the fact is that there’s often more work to be done in the fair latitudes. History has about 500 years of evidence on this note.
Not everybody wants to hear about it, though. As the motivational writer Jim Rohm noted, “The few who do are the envy of the many who only watch.”
Meanwhile, the modern age has given us the conceit that every bit of risk can be squeezed out of our futures if we only plan enough. I know a number of people who consult actuarial charts so they can reckon how many more years they’re going to live so they can optimize their financial planning. That’s certainly sensible at one level. Having some sense of the numbers sure can’t hurt. But too much fixation on this data can bleach out the fact that Mother Nature will act in accordance with her agenda, not ours.
And this leads to a paradox of modern life. We all like the notion of certainty, but the more secure our lives seem, the easier it is to squander them.