This has almost become a cliched phrase that means simply “Seize the day”. But it takes on more and more meaning to me every day.
A relative, 69 years old, went in to the hospital for a relatively minor procedure, and found out they have a much more serious condition. This is someone who has been putting off retirement, not for financial reasons, but simply because they are largely defined by the work that they do. It’s someone who doesn’t have a lot of hobbies or very much personal identity beyond work. It’s lead to lots of work success, but it’s left the world outside of work rather empty by comparison. Now that this has happened, the rest of the family wonders what’s next. Will retirement finally become a reality, or is this a person who will end up dying at the desk or while checking voicemail?
Another relative recently lost his wife of nearly 40 years to lung cancer. She was sick for a long time, but was holding her own, and then the end accelerated pretty quickly. The loss of his wife seems like the amputation of a limb, combined with losing the thing that keeps you tethered to the ebb and flow of daily life. Yet he spoke of how much they had grown together in the past few years, enjoying time at their place in Maine, visiting and spoiling their grandchildren with abandon.
While we all want work that gives our life meaning, that makes us feel alive and like we make a contribution, you do need to strike a balance between life and work. At some point, you will age. You will retire, even if not by your own choice. And you will need to have a life after work. By being in love with work, one relative has put off retirement for so long, he may not be able to reap the reward at the end of the rainbow- he will never have the dream he worked so hard for all these years. The other had a chance to enjoy that dream for several years, before health concerns changed the rules and changed the game entirely.
While I know the workaholic did what he loved and would not change a thing, now, as the long awaited good life evaporates in a cloud of health issues, you can’t help but think all that hard work is a proverbial bridge to nowhere. That dream of “living the good life” is as out of reach as ever before. So maybe part of the lesson in all of this is to maintain a work-life balance; the other is enjoy what you have while you can- you can defer gratification to the point where it slips right out of your reach altogether.