Sunday Musings – Life is too Short to Live With Regret, Life is too Long to Live Without Purpose

Sunday Musings – Life is too Short to Live With Regret, Life is too Long to Live Without Purpose

Typically on Sunday’s I run a post where I collect all of my tweets from the week and include a trivial fact about Sauerkraut.  Today, I’m going to run a musings post (one that’s about a subject a little bigger than this blog normally covers) instead of Sauerkraut because with traveling this week I had few tweets and many musings.  The musings come from a simply amazing five days in Australia.  The trip reinforced several of my core principles, the most relevant of these I’d like to share with you.

Being objectivist, I believe that the very thing that makes us human is the ability to produce more than we (or our offspring) consume, we are the only creature on earth that can leave this surplus of creation for others as a legacy.  Furthermore, if this is what separates us from other life forms, is it really even being human to simply provide for ourselves and our family?  I don’t believe so, I believe that each human life should have a “life’s work”, something that is worked towards for a lifetime and remains to serve mankind.  In this pursuit, I live a fairly dedicated life.   I am usually on my fourth cup of coffee and my third hour of work when the emails start coming in at 8am.  When I fall asleep at night it’s often with an email half written on my bedside laptop.  My mood is often dictated by work and usually even those who I care the most for sometimes have to bend to my work schedule.  I am not ashamed of any of these statements, nor do I ever apologize for them.  Australia reaffirmed this belief over the course of two days of meetings.  I got the chance to see how some of the work that my company has been doing for the last few years can impact companies throughout Asia and how our next steps could prove even more valuable.

Given my stance on my life’s work, you might think that my life is all work without time for relaxation or play.  You’d be mistaken.  In fact, I believe relaxation and play are vital parts of any successful life.  However, as with my life’s work, I think relaxation and play need to be done for a reason.  Fortunately, I have three good reasons that play and relaxation are imporatant.

First, if you don’t play and relax enough, you can be too focused to learn.  If all you do is focus on getting from A to B, how will you learn where your next stop should be? or even if B is worth getting to?  For this reason I believe that you must take the time to learn (both formally and through experiences).  Take the time to talk to people you respect; see how/why/what they’re doing.  Read on subjects that interest you, you may find that they are a part of your life’s work that you never knew was missing.  This is especially true If you don’t know precisely where your life’s work is taking you at the moment.  Then maybe it’s best to take some time away and play a little until your purpose becomes a clearer.  There are people whose life’s work I respect immensely that played for years before (or in the middle of) pursuing their life’s work.  This point was underscored in Australia because I got to observe a couple of people I came to respect while they were at play.

Second, there must be enough relaxation in life to allow for introspection.  Even the best intentioned people can get lost in their life’s focus only to wake up and realize they’ve been off course for years.  This trip underscored this point for me in the form of two 22 hour travel days.  I was able to think through a number of things in that time, including the thoughts recorded in this post.

Third, you must have enough flexibility in your life to be able to take advantage of opportunities (events, people, experiences) that are once in a lifetime.  I hate that so many people work so hard that they can retire and “do all the things they want to do”.  Really?  All the things they wanted to do?  Can they hike through India when they’re retired?  Sail a yacht competitively?  Nope, these things require youth, so if you want to do them, you better get busy.  Youth isn’t the only resource that’s fleeting either, many opportunities are here one day and gone the next… opera tickets, an invitation to go out sailing in Sydney harbor, the chance to learn from someone in a foreign city etc…  When these opportunities come along, you need to take them.  I relearned this lesson from people who’ve taken time to do things while they were young and by having an amazing time taking advantage of opera tickets and a sailing opportunity.

My main point is that life is far too long and we are capable of far too much to simply live to feed our families.  We need to find a purpose for our lives and make it our life’s work to further that purpose.  On the other hand, much of life is fleeting and if we don’t take the time to smell the roses we will miss opportunities to learn, reflect and experience everything we should.

  • John Hammer

    Hi Jon, I hope all is going well.

    I do have a point. I’ve read your post and to me, it seems your primary question is: “…Is it really even being human to simply provide for ourselves and our family?” I want to be clear on this point because you mention “simply living to feed your families” a couple of times. I strongly disagree with you and I want to make sure I understand your point.

    Unless something has changed that I am not aware of, I don’t believe you have any children yet. Once you have children I believe your question will change to “Am I doing enough in providing for my significant other and my family?”

    Once you have children, your family becomes your life. It isn’t just feeding the kids. It is being their doctor, it is answering their questions (on everything), it is playing with them (daily), it is correcting them, encouraging them, finding other kids that you trust enough to play with, reading to them, trying to keep them away from the television, and (in the meantime) hoping that you don’t make too many mistakes in the process.

    Your primary job as a parent is to make sure you raise productive members of society. Everything else, including the late nights writing RFP responses, becomes secondary. There are no days off as a parent. Even when I am 1,000 miles away, I am making time to talk with my children on the phone to make sure they are doing their homework & listening to their mother.

    Every day is a once in a lifetime event when it comes to your children growing up. The wife and I loved our travels together pre-kids. We had many fun and exciting experiences. But, none of them have ever come close to watching our kids take their first steps. Seeing things through their eyes is a real learning experience for me. They think of things that I would have never thought of.

    In terms of flexibility to do what we want, I guess the wife and I could go see the symphony every weekend or go to a nice dinner. We are financially in a position where I could drop the kids off at my in-laws and then take a romantic weekend in NYC. Instead, we’d rather play a board game or hide-and-seek with our children in our boring suburban Pittsburgh home. Now that our youngest is old enough, we do try to go hiking as a family. This summer, we’ll probably go camping as a family. (Now THAT is a once in a lifetime event. Our first night in a tent together. I wonder if we’ll get three hours of sleep that night.)

    Kids mean that your weekends will be filed with Soccer games and Cub Scout events. The extended skiing weekends become impossible because your child has school. Or the day you planned to take the child to their first baseball game is ruined because the kid suddenly becomes very sick and you have to stay home with them.

    Jon, I respectfully point out that to many parents, the job of being a parent is the real opportunity to learn, reflect and experience everything we can. I smell the roses every day I am home. It’s just sometimes those roses smell very much like a dirty diaper.

    (It is very hard to proofread long comments through Disqus. I hope my rant makes sense.)

    • John, I GREATLY appreciate your comment! On the plane ride home I wrote nearly 6 pages and cut it down to what appeared on the blog. That and my poor job proofing my posts left me saying some things I didn’t intend to say. I always take a risk when I post these musings that are too personal, that I haven’t abstracted them enough to be about everyone instead of being about me.

      What I meant by the quick (too quick) comment on objectivism (paragraph 2 and then mentioned several times) is best summed up in Ayn Rand’s introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness. Too elaborate slightly on what I wrote (though I still recommend the reading), she points out that there is an order of organisms. An amoeba is little more alive than a chemical, everything it does is no more than a chemical reaction to something in its environment. A plant has the ability to adapt to its environment (grow out from under a rock for example), but not because of a decision, simply because it perceived light and responded automatically. An animal is only slightly more evolved then that, able to make choices but only based on instinct and behaviors learned from its parents and repetition. A Human on the other hand has the ability to weigh a decision and consciously make the one that will be best for himself. He can do this even if he has never made (and he has never seen anyone make) this particular decision before. It’s also worth noting that a human can make more in her lifetime then either she or her offspring will ever use and thereby leave a legacy (something an animal can’t do). Her point (and mine) is that we ignore our opportunity to be human if all we do is float from one thing to the next responding by instinct and learned behavior to the world around us (content only to have provided some basic life for ourselves and our dependents).

      You’re right, I don’t have any children. In fact, I don’t intend to have any (not to say that could never change, but that’s what I see right now). I have a tendency when I write posts like this one to write from that perspective, without abstracting my words enough. I did not mean to imply that any particular decision is required to exercise cognition and leave a legacy, there are many many ways to do so. A man (such as yourself) or woman who makes a conscious decision, aware of other opportunities, to raise a family to the best of his or her ability, has not foregone the opportunity to make conscious choice. In fact, I would argue any person who can explain their life’s work (regardless of what they’ve chosen) as eloquently as you did, is consciously considering their path (as opposed to just reacting by instinct and learned behavior). Actually, that would be a pretty good “Ayn Rand Human Behavior Test”.

      There are a few times I refer to living to “feed our families” as being inadequate, the words are poorly chosen. I intended to create a distinction between “feeding your family” (simply by skating through life by instinct and learned behavior) and living a purposeful life (whether or not that purpose includes a family). Unfortunately, upon rereading, I think I only really completed that distinction in my head.

      Also, if you’ve chosen a very different “life’s work” then me (which you have), then your opportunities to learn, what you need flexibility for and your once in a lifetime experiences will be very different. I stand by the core points of my post, but perhaps providing examples from my life was counterproductive. I’ll close by repeating the last line of my post, which aside from examples and explanation, is all I was really trying to say:

      We need to find a purpose for our lives and make it our life’s work to further that purpose. On the other hand, much of life is fleeting and if we don’t take the time to smell the roses we will miss opportunities to learn, reflect and experience everything we should.