I write this post mere hours after finding out that a friend of mine and former colleague passed away suddenly at age 53. I worked closely with her for a number of years. She was a caring, hard working person, a wife, and the mother of 2 teenage sons. What makes me most sad isn't so much that she passed away at what most would consider a young age, but that she never really experienced freedom. Freedom from the hamster wheel of a full-time job, freedom from financial concerns, and freedom from other personal worries.
She is the third former colleague under the age of 60 to pass away in the last 6 months. It's a harsh personal reminder that we can leave this earth at any time. That being the case, we have the choice each and every day to live in the now, to set our lives up in a way that frees us from the artificial “requirements” of modern life.
How? By making choices based on what truly matters: investing our time in the most meaningful ways possible to be able to feel day in and day out that our actions are in line with our values. That is, investing our our family, our friends and most importantly in ourselves.
How is it that we will invest in material goods and activities that reduce our focus and ability to tend to what matters most? Why do we need the big house in the suburbs that requires a long commute, the multiple [new] cars, the expensive vacations, the “right” clothing, toys and other accoutrements? Why are we driven by external forces as opposed to what really provides satisfaction in life? All this external "stuff" pushes our ability to focus on what matters out to some time in the future.
What if you don’t get to have that future, as was the case for my friend? I like to think we can find some answers by learning about Stoicism. Stoics are of the view that you should consider everything in life as fleeting. Consider that everything that you have today may be gone tomorrow: material possessions, family, friends, your health...How would this make you behave differently?
It is vital to experience freedom now, at least some freedom. Not in the purely hedonic sense of “do whatever you like and to hell with the consequences”. Make the choices that matter with how you spend your time, first and foremost, and how you spend/invest your money. Maybe start getting through your top bucket list items. Set yourself up to feel free now, not for a future that is not guaranteed to happen as you envision it will. At worse, you will fill a short life with what is most meaningful, and at best, you will fill your life with more of what is meaningful than you would have by waiting for your “future self” to start doing so. Your “golden years” can start whenever you decide you can have them.
In memory of Susan. This world has lost a wonderful and caring person. She will be missed.