January 24, 2011

Don't Die With Your Music Still In You

You are in control of a good part of your life and your destiny. Most of us have a retirement lifestyle that would be unimaginable to the vast majority of the world’s citizens. We can make choices every day that allow us to be satisfied. But, do we? How often do we make the easy choice instead of the right choice?

Let’s assume you currently live comfortably. You have possessions that make your life pleasant, your finances are in order, and things are pretty much running well. Like me, you probably have a car or two, own at least one computer, a flat screen TV or two, some nice clothes, and a home or apartment to store all your stuff. You don’t worry too much about what you buy each week at the grocery store. You have a safe and predictable existence. You are living a satisfying retirement.

But, is that all there is? After all, why are we here? Is it to acquire stuff, or maybe to make our families as comfortable as possible? Regardless of your faith or your belief in what happens after death one thing is clear: we can’t take any of that stuff with us. Our comfortable lifestyle has no power to endure. The statistics are pretty clear: your chance of dying is 100%.

So, what have we chosen? A lifestyle that is safe and predictable but with little real substance to stimulate us. Those who achieve some of the external trappings of success without internal fulfillment are only living on the surface. In many cases that life avoids facing the real fear — that maybe all this stuff isn’t really worth anything compared to what’s being lost… that maybe I should be living more boldly and not be so concerned about what happens to all my stuff. I want my life to have more value. I may die rich, or I may die broke but I won’t die with my music still in me.

What have I got to lose? What am I truly risking if I seriously go after my dreams? If my current lifestyle is unfulfilled, then I’m starting broke, no matter how much money is in the bank. Money and material assets are just resources to use while you’re here. You’re only a temporary steward of the money and possessions that pass through your life. So when you risk money, you don’t risk anything of any enduring value. Earn money, lose money, invest money. But don’t make material objects more important than your own fulfillment and happiness. Life is just too precious to waste. If you are spending your days doing things that just fill the time but aren't deeply fulfilling, what is the value? 

What does it mean to really live? Deep down, you already have a sense of the direction where this answer lies for you. Ultimately, it’s a choice. You’re free to live the kind of life you want. There may be real costs, in terms of comfort, or even relationships. Not everyone will be willing to board your ship before it sails.

Here’s a question: if you knew you only had 18 months left to live, how would you spend your time? What would you immediately stop doing? How would you fill the time you have left?

If you could you would probably live for what is real to you. Live for what truly matters to you. What matters to me — what is real to me — is inspiring and helping people, loving my wife and family, deepening my faith, simplifying my life, and leaving a mark of some kind.

Directly or indirectly what my precious time is spent on should somehow relate to those desires. The fulfillment I get from doing these things should trump all the external stuff. It shoudn’t matter what the state of my finances are. It shouldn’t matter if people reject my ideas or poke fun at what I enjoy doing.

What would I put on a "bucket list?"  Taking an RV trip around America for a few months and going back to England and Ireland would be there. A cruise to Alaska, definitely. I'd continue my volunteer work with just-released prisoners. It is satisfying and meaningful. I'd get good enough to play my guitar in public. I would continue to work on deepening my faith walk. I would take every opportunity to make my wife, daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids happy.

What would not be on the list? Worrying about weeds in the lawn. Having a 30 item to-do list every morning. Weekend chores. A messy house. Worrying about things I can't control, which is virtually everything except my attitude.

How about you? Would your list include composing a new piece of music, writing something inspiring, giving your spouse a massage?  How about playing with your grandkids, cleaning out some clutter? Would you audition for a local play, start your own business, volunteer for a charity or two?

Whatever it is for you and me. all of us need to do something that leaves us feeling at the end of the day that we really contributed the best of ourselves. We need to strive that we not die with our music still in us.

Thanks to blogger Steve Pavlina for a post he wrote several years ago that inspired this article.

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  1. Thank you Bob for saying it just right! Too many of us chase the almighty dollar at all costs and when we have far more than we cold ever spend, then what? A quote from Thomas Merton that I often go to "Avoid the futile agitation that comes from the pursuit of purely temporal things". It is not about things but about experiences and excitement and living. Easy to get distracted but nice to find our way back with articles like yours. Have a great day!

  2. Thanks, Dave, for the support and compliment. Our family has often chosen experience over stuff. I believe we are better off for doing so.

    Just like the affirmation idea, taking small steps away from acquiring more stuff will eventually pay off. Would you rather die with a house full of stuff or a mind full of memories?

  3. It seems that we spend a lifetime accumulating 'stuff' and with retirement find that it is relationships, love, adventure and fun that really matter. I admit that I enjoy my comforts however, as you have said so well, material things are not the most important assets in life.

  4. I agree. But just how do we stop the noise of those weeds screaming at us from the back yard????

  5. Jeanette,

    There is nothing wrong with comfort. I'm not ready to live in a tent. But retirement is the perfect time to listen for the music wanting to get out.

  6. Syd,
    Move to a condo and let someone else worry about those noisy weeds. I'm getting better at ignoring them for weeks at a time.

  7. Bob,

    Very well written. You knocked it out of the park.

    In Dave's comment he quotes Merton, who I also enjoy and can recommend.

  8. I finally have a name to attach to J295. Thanks Rick for sharing your name and thoughts. Yes, it is not very common to read a quote from Thomas Merton, but it fits perfectly.

  9. I came here via Ralph Carson's blog and your post certainly rang a bell with me Bob.

    I like to think I have done quite a bit with my life and still have lots to do. As you said money doesn't mean a thing really, as long as we have the comforts we need any excess should be spent on doing the things we have promised ourselves.

    I have sailed around the islands of Scotland and Greece, dived on the wrecks of the German fleet of WW1, climbed mountains, walked long distance trails and now what I want to do above anything is get my grandchildren interested in the outdoor life.

    If I can do that I will die happy.

    Ashton-under-Lyne, UK

  10. Morning, Bill,

    So far, it looks to me as though you have quite a symphony you are playing. The "music" inside you is being expressed in a very satisfying way. I've been wreck diving in Bermuda but that was easy duty compared to where you probably had to go to find WW1 wrecks.

    Every time I'm with my grandkids I grab every opportunity to pass along something I think may be of value to them as they grow. Your teaching them about the power and majesty of nature and being part of it is a tremendous goal. Looking at where you live in England, I imagine the call of nature and the beauty of your countryside is quite strong.

    Thanks for visiting from Ralph's blog. I like his style. He pulls few punches. I hope you come back often, Bill.

  11. You are playing my song, Bob. It's just that after a lifetime of conventional thinking it is hard to get wild and crazy. Still retirement is the time to shake it up. Doing what is important (which is to say what I will feel good about on my death bed or want to see in my obituary). It doesn't have to be extravagant but you have to start moving out of the rut.

  12. Great post...you are absolutely right. Isn't it wonderful to be able to do what we have dreamed about doing without worrying about the "day job". We've been doing it for 15 years and i have this feeling we have only begun.

    From an experienced retiree,



  13. Thanks, Barb,

    for the comment and finding my Facebook page from a Twitter Tweet earlier today. I've added your blog to my Blog roll. It looks like we have something in common.

  14. It is funny because the cruise, the travel and anything external would not be what I would want to do. I would do what I have been doing for the past 5 years. I have been spending more time with my the love of my life, the kids, and grands. I'm spending more time at Church and more time with God. And since New Years I have been dusting more. LOL!! But as I type this I realize that what started this desire to be with my family more and to do the things that mean so much to me was the prostrate Cancer my husband had 7 years ago and the heart problem I was diagnosed with 5 years ago. While I'd LOVE to go across the U.S. in an RV or spend two weeks seeing N.Y. or fly to Spain (my top three trips I'l love to take.) it just isn't as important as spending time with my family and my church family.

  15. I completely agree. The trips I listed may or may not happen. Even if they do they would be done in just a few weeks or maybe a month at the most. The rest of my time is spent with family and friends and church activities. The important things for my family are experiences and time together. We get all excited when the grandkids miss us and want to come up for a picnic (like this Friday!).

    Those are the times that play my music most often. As the post says, "What matters to me — what is real to me — is inspiring and helping people, loving my wife and family, deepening my faith, simplifying my life, and leaving a mark of some kind."

    Sounds as though you and I are on the same page, Sue.

    Thanks so much for being here today.

  16. Boy,am I glad I don't have to go on cruises ,play an instrument,and generally save the world.
    I retired in 97 with a schedule that resembled my work day.I needed to get everythin in.
    My day started at 7 with my French lessons,then at 8 my piano practice,then breakfast ,then painting .
    Soon though some of that fell off the list.
    I have found I prefer to be stress free
    and for the most part worry free,love my kids and grandkids,care for my husband.
    These are the things I didn't have as a young adult so I appreciate the whole lack of anxiety thing.I went on a cruise in /78 and was not inclined so much toward that,although I don't rule it out.
    I am glad to hear that your priorities are similar to my own because even if one is satisfied there's still that feeling that maybe I'm not doing enough.
    I have been

  17. Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for visiting from the east coast of Canada. And, thanks for sharing your retirement journey. You did start out like a lot of us...more activities than time. It was almost as if we were worried that we'd be thought of as lazy.

    Then, we kind of find our balance, understand what makes us happy, and make adjustments. If we are lucky we get to spend more time doing what we really like and less doing what we think we should.

  18. due to a medical illness forced to somewhat retire early. I am a physician and expected to work for another 5 years. Have done all what is recommended to take good care of myself, busy at work,miss patient care, suffered thru the frustrations of the bureaucracy. But had to take a break for healing and the unknowns for future symptoms of my problem. I really appreciate all of the thoughts in this blog as my wife and I are undergoing a huge change with this 24/7 coexistence and my dependency on her to do my driving for me. I have ideas of what other things I could do but have to limit excess driving to and from those opportunities.

    1. Hi, Paul. Welcome. There are over five years worth of posts here - I hope you find some things that help you in your journey. Your situation will require major adjustments. Please drop me a note if there is anything I can share or help you make your retirement more satisfying and pleasant.

      And, the very best of luck with your challenges.


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