Saturday 28 July 2012

What to do with the rest of your life

This year I turn 60 years old. A friend amusingly described this as entering the fourth quarter. I chuckled at his football metaphor while adding that the fourth quarter is the last quarter. Okay, we traded supposedly clever and witty references to overtime but whatever the case, the fourth quarter happens just before the end of the game.

Now it may seem like I'm having a moment, a bit of the morbid has slipped into the mix and ain't I just a ray of sunshine? However I am merely talking about the inevitable and if we ignore it, aren't we behaving like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand? I am currently revising my will and setting up power of attorney to ensure things will be taken care of in the event of my demise or incapacitation. I can't have my heirs fighting over my boxed set of Twilight DVDs. (I've asked for them to be placed in the casket and buried with me.)

As I sit here all by myself in my apartment, a single man supposedly without a care in the world (Oh now isn't that rich?) who is reflecting on the first three quarters I find myself faced with that age old question of what to do with the rest of my life. Is it now that we sum up our contributions to posterity and realise we have fallen slightly short of setting the world on fire?

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
(The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)
Robert Burns, To a Mouse (Poem, November, 1785)
Scottish national poet (1759 - 1796): The Quotations Page

To continue the football metaphor, the fourth quarter is arguably the best quarter. It is certainly the most exciting quarter as it is here the entire game is decided. While the match up to now has hopefully demonstrated a solid strategy, the spectators are now looking forward to the team bringing it all together for that winning touchdown with the Jumbotron showing the happy face of the wide receiver as he is hoisted onto his teammate's shoulders. Shake up that bottle of bubbly, pop the cork, and then hose down your fellow players.

Okay, enough of the football; let's get back to that perplexing existential question. As always when I seek an answer, I go the omniscient master of all things indexed on the Net, Google. My initial search (see below) was to type in "what to do with the rest of your life" (without quotes) in the search bar.

Robert Fuller, Ph.D.
An article in Psychology Today penned by Dr. Fuller was first on the list. I was unfamiliar with the man but found him to be thoughtful and kind. Considering his work over the years as a humanitarian in various forms, Dr. Fuller's answer echoes other things I've read over the years. One of the most fulfilling of what we can do in life is giving to our fellow human being. It isn't necessarily charity per se, but the kind word, the emotional support, and the helping hand we offer.

The actual contribution made by people emptying bedpans is less the clean pans and more the dignity or indignity sown among those for whom they're working. The indelible contribution of a teacher is less the knowledge she imparts than the confidence she builds in her students. What you give a child is not your time, but your self.

Is it not simple? We feel good doing good. And what better way to do good than to improve the life of another?

However, Dr. Fuller goes on to look at us as individuals and what possibly each of us would love to do. He quotes the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

Look back upon your life and ask: What up to now have you truly loved, what has raised up your soul, what ruled it and at the same time made it happy? Line up these objects of reverence before you, and see how they form a ladder on which you have so far climbed up toward your true self.

Our true self? Once again, I thought of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.

my blog: Passion: Can you live without it?
Maslow was an American psychiatrist whose most notable contribution to psychology was the hierarchy of needs. In this theory he described how each of us develops through 5 stages:

1. physiological: breathing, food, water
2. safety: security of body, employment
3. love/belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
4. esteem: achievement, respect of others, respect by others
5. self-actualization: creativity, problem solving

Normally, this hierarchy is portrayed as a pyramid with physiological at the bottom, it being the most basic of needs. As we satisfy one need, we move up to the next level, the next need. The top level, self-actualization is where a person becomes who he or she is. This may be an athlete, a musician, a doctor, a good parent or a painter. It is where we define ourselves and give ourselves identity.

I have always said that I am a "5th level" person. My activities define me, give me purpose in life, and motivate me to work hard. It is interesting to look at anybody who falls into this category. The person in question doesn't necessarily do it for money or some material gain; they do it, well, just because it's there. I don't work hard because I'm getting a whole whack of money (although a few dollars thrown my way are always appreciated); I work hard because I love to solve problems, achieve something, and even help somebody. I don't do it because I have to do it; I do it because I want to do it. Isn't that what any of us would want? Imagine having a job that paid you a reasonable amount of money. That's good. That's practical. Now imagine doing a job which excites you, fires up your imagination, and fulfills your need to create something in life which would be valued by others. You didn't stay late at the office because of a deadline or your boss told you to, no you stayed because you were excited by your job. Ah, ain't that heaven? That's how I define level 5.

Final Word
I'm starting the 4th quarter. What will I do? What will I manage to achieve? My stay on Earth is a finite one and I would think I should try and make it a good one. Now just what "good" means exactly remains to be seen but I would hope there would be a celebratory bottle of champagne, shaken, uncorked, then sprayed as a symbolic display of enthusiasm for whatever success I may attain.


Psychology Today - Sep 13/2009
What Shall I Do with the Rest of My Life? by Robert Fuller, Ph.D.
If you have to stick with your job to pay the bills, then you may feel that asking this question of yourself is pointless. But it's not. Rich or poor, young and old, we all dream of something different, something better, if only when we gaze at the stars. And, regardless of our lot in life, we can give this perennial question a new answer-either by doing differently what we've been doing, or by pursuing something else on the side.

Wikipedia: Robert W. Fuller
Robert W. Fuller (1936) earned his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton University in 1961, and taught at Columbia University where he co-authored the book Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. The mounting social unrest of the 1960's, and Fuller's commitment to educational reform--which he had already demonstrated as a Columbia dean--led his alma mater, Oberlin College, in 1970, to make him its tenth president, succeeding Robert Carr. At age 33, Fuller became one of the youngest college presidents in U.S. history.
co-founded The Hunger Project
citizen-diplomat in Russia
identify rankism--a term he coined, and defined as the abuse of the power conferred by rank.

Google search: what to do with the rest of your life

my blog: Passion: Can you live without it?
I have been blessed a few times in my life to have experienced true passion. However I am certain you may think I'm talking about something romantic but what I am actually talking about is passion for what you do. To live passionately, to work passionately; this is about the passion you have or should have about your personal goals in life, about your life itself.

I'm turning 60 this year. How many times have I mentioned this? Am I a little obsessed? Ha ha. Well, maybe I am and maybe I need to figure out what to do about it. Unlike others, I don't have everything figured out. Ha ha. All the best to you in your world. :-)

my blog: I'm 60. Now what? Oct 20/2012
Sixty. Hmph. So the moment is here and this is what it feels like. Hmph. What was I expecting? I do realise however that to a twenty something, I am officially an old man. But just what the heck does old feel like? Are we back to the idea that age is a state of mind? Hey, my puffing because I'm winded or my vitamin supplements or the grey hair showing up in my beard isn't what I would call a state of mind. Nope this is the real deal. This is it.


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