By Laura A. Roser
Finding Meaning When Work Isn’t a Necessity
“It’s Tilapia Tuesday again,” my fiancé says. We’re in a small mountain town in Costa Rica, staying with friends who decided to pack up and leave their jobs and the Salt Lake City snow behind about two years ago. They now find themselves in a tropical paradise with two rambunctious dogs, one clever cat, a beautiful custom-built home (with a guestroom for us to stay in for two weeks), and a network of retired ex-pat buddies who gossip, drink, hike, and birdwatch together.
This is the second Tilapia Tuesday I have been privy to. The fish tastes the same as the week before, and the town gossip hasn’t progressed much. As I sip my licuado de piña and frantically check my iPhone for the eighth time in the last two minutes, it dawns on me that unless my perspective drastically changes in the next 30 years, I’m going to make a terrible retiree.
I can’t imagine a worse hell than measuring time by Tilapia Tuesdays and trying to fill my days by wandering from bar to bar to chat with friends about who’s not keeping up his yard. I need projects. I need goals. I need intellectual stimulation.
When I asked one of our gracious hosts if she would ever go back to work, the answer was, “No way. My job was hell.” Life is pretty good for her now: she goes running several times a week, volunteers at the animal clinic, has an active social life, and visits with friends and family from back home on Skype.
Maybe I’m just a workaholic. No one else seems to think my business goals are that interesting or important. “You need to disconnect … Relax a little,” is the prevailing wisdom from my Costa Rican friends.
Still, a part of me wonders: Is this all I have to look forward to?
You spend your life working and grasping for something better, easier, more pleasurable, and then when you get it, you become bored.
In his book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari writes, “The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.”
Although Yuval makes a good point, I don’t think all of humanity is doomed to a life of dissatisfaction. I believe the answer to a life of meaning lies in finding what connects you with your soul’s joy center and then continually reconnecting to that source. For some this connection comes through their faith, for others family, and for others the creative process. Each person must find his or her own way.
One woman’s hell could be another woman’s paradise.
Finding Fulfillment in All of Life’s Stages
Even though no one can tell you how to live a fulfilled life, there are some hints you will find when observing the experiences of others.
In their book Just Enough, authors Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson studied many top executives. What their findings revealed is that these executives were successful monetarily but often felt they were lacking in relationships, family connection, work-life balance, and character development.
Their study came up with four metrics that matter most in creating a meaningful life:
1. Happiness: Experiencing pleasure or contentment in and about your life.
2. Achievement: Accomplishing goals that compare favorably to others who have strived for something similar.
3. Significance: Positively impacting the people you care about.
4. Legacy: Using your knowledge, values, and accomplishments to help others with their future success.
When you develop each of these metrics, the authors found, life takes on a heightened sense of purpose.
As we age, it is even more important to stay balanced with each of these metrics. If we have spent years in the achievement zone, for example, and neglected a sense of personal happiness, contentment, or pleasure, it’s easy to become burned out. These are the people you see working themselves like mad and longingly looking up at a picture of a beach in their cubicle. Not a fun way to live.
All We Have Is Now
OK, so I know there are stages to life—ups and downs, times of striving followed by relaxation, and so on. But, on the whole, it’s a really, really good idea to figure out how to live a fulfilling life right now. Why? Because there is no tomorrow. If you’re always waiting for the future to reach your ideal destination, life might just pass you by. If you’ve learned to enjoy the journey, retirement won’t become some life-saving oasis to rescue you from overwork, but a new phase of life with an evolved sense of meaning.
The Benefits of Age
The especially cool part about aging is that the significance and legacy metrics become more important and applicable. You’ve spent years mastering skills, learning the ins and outs of life, and perfecting your career. Sharing your wisdom and helping others reach their dreams can become a great source of satisfaction. Spreading your knowledge is a way to give others a leg up and make an impact.
Of course, no one is going to be content every waking moment. But if you find yourself looking around and wondering if there is more to life, it might be time to consider how you’re spending your time. Is there enough pleasure and contentment in your life? What about achievement? How have you helped others lately? What are you doing to leave a legacy of significance?
If that doesn’t work, you can always head to the local bar, grab a tilapia taco, and catch up on the latest gossip.
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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning