“Pay yourself first!” “Max out your 401k, Roth IRA, and every other saving platform available before you even think about doing anything else!” “When you get a raise, don’t spend it! Save it!” “If you don’t save every possible penny you will never be able to retire and will have to work forever!”
These refrains sound familiar to anyone who has read the prevailing wisdom around finances in the modern world. And it’s not really wrong. Saving is great. Financial responsibility is important. Planning for the future is going to make a lot of things much easier down the road.
But what about your life right now? Today. What about the span of time between ages 18-67. Is that really meant to be 50 years of nose to the grindstone, scrimping, saving, sacrificing, and hiding in your home all for the promise of some far off glorious day when you retire and finally get to start living? I sure as hell hope not.
I’ve seen it again and again. People who denied themselves any adventure, travel, or outside the norm life experiences because they believed that they had to put everything on hold until they had a certain sized nest egg. Until the government deemed them qualified to retire from working, so they could really start living. And you know what happens shortly after they finally reach the promised land of medicare and drawing from their retirement income right? Heart attack. Cancer diagnosis. Or such general ill health that they are too weak, tired and broken to enjoy this long awaited “permission” to finally enjoy this thing called life. It’s the most heartbreaking cautionary tale I have ever seen. And it happens all the time.
I have experienced it even in my own little microcosm. My last 3 years or so I’ve had some health struggles. Illnesses and injuries that have meant I can’t do some of the things I used to do, and other activities have to be done slower and more cautiously than before. It really puts a bright, shining perspective on the health and vibrancy that I once took for granted. It helps me feel immensely grateful for the experiences I have already had and makes me wish I had done a few other things that had been on the back burner. But more than anything it makes me devoted to checking things off the bucket list now. No waiting. No putting it off to some far off “someday” that may never come.
I want to live now. And tomorrow. And next week. I have no way to know when this life will end or what limitations will come tomorrow. I know I have today.
I was asked recently what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. I pondered this and initially thought that fear doesn’t really play a big part in my decision making anymore. I really don’t think fear holds me back from anything. But then I realized that fear does play a part. My fear is arriving at the end of my life thinking I had missed something important. I perish the thought of missing out on something wonderful because I was being too cautious. Too reserved. I want to live out loud in full vibrant color holding nothing back until I finally collapse into a heap exhilarated and satisfied. If that means not maxing out my IRA this year so I can pay for the experiences that are important to me, I'm ok with that.
I’m not suggesting you do something blatantly irresponsible. Yes, make sure you are paying your bills and planning for the future. But don’t be so focused on tomorrow that you forget about today. Maybe this year, put that raise into your travel fund. Make a plan for some things you can do today, and in the coming year, that will start you living the life you really want to live. I truly believe that money is a renewable resource. There is plenty to go around, and plenty more where that came from. You can always make more money. You cannot make more time.
When asked what puzzled him most about humanity the Dalai Lama said, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Or put another way, I leave you with these wise words from Alan Watts:
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