A warm orange glow dances across the blades of grass and lights up the trunks of my oak trees on this crisp morning. The warming sun and my hot coffee have removed the chill here on the back porch. I’m wondering if spring has begun or if it’s only a teaser before the cold Arctic blasts return. I’m hopeful it will be an early spring, not uncommon here in Austin, and a great time to paint fields of blue and orange when the Texas bluebonnet season arrives.
Most of my mornings start out thinking about three things I’m grateful for. Today it’s breathing in the fresh air, the ability to walk through the yard, and the gift of saying “I love you” to my wife and kids. Sadly, as I ponder last week, these gifts are reinforced.
A Cryptic Text
I knew something was wrong when I received a text from one of my closest friends that read, “Eric, it’s Jen please call me. I’m using Sean’s phone.”
The grim voice on the other side told me that Sean had suffered a massive brain-stem stroke, was on a respirator, and was paralyzed completely, only able to move his eyes.
One of my dearest friends, Sean has worked for me three times. I gave him his first job at age 19, when I was just 22, and we’ve been close since 1978. Sean loved his job in radio and always resisted the idea of someday retiring. I remember him telling me that to him, retirement would be like death, because it would keep him from what he loved doing.
Now, Sean is facing the biggest challenge of his life. I’ll be on an airplane to visit with him this week. But his stroke serves as a reminder that everything can change in a split second, and that when you and I look back, we want to make sure, if we are able, that we are doing what we love every second of our lives.
Please Let Me Work!
A few years ago I met Rick, an artist who had owned a giant business, and who had sold it for a large amount of money. After selling it, he told me, “I can never spend all this money, and every day I wake up bored and wishing I was still running my business because I loved being there with my employees and my clients. I’ve realized that is more valuable than money. I may be rich, but I would rather be going to work every day.” Though Rick is thankful he discovered painting, he misses running the business he built, his true passion.
A Giant Smile on My Dead Face
Though I have never really considered retirement or even slowing down, Rick’s situation reinforced my decision to work forever. I cannot imagine taking my active brain and giving it no outlet for my ideas. I too would be bored, so I decided that my goal is to be carried out from my desk, at a very, very old age, with a big smile on my face because I was doing what I loved. Or maybe it will be in my studio, or painting plein air, which I always find time to to do.
So Why Do I Think Retirement Is a Bad Idea?
Giving up eight hours a day, five days a week, for 40 or more years is a giant sacrifice. My belief is that those 80,000 hours should used only doing something you love, or on a mission you are so driven to accomplish that it never seems like work. The very idea of just showing up, burning 80,000 hours doing something you despise, seems very wrong.
I know many people do it. Some feel trapped because of financial pressures or because they feel they can’t find anything else. Some make the best of it, others show up every day hating their work and looking forward to the day they retire.
Of course, there are also people who don’t have a choice, who have to retire due to age restrictions in the company or industry they work in. Or maybe health conditions force them out, like the surgeon whose hands can no longer operate, or the construction worker whose body can no longer lift heavy materials.
The Reality of Work
I discovered the hard way that boredom, the lack of excitement and energy, is what drives the desire to escape. I’m a living example. When my business celebrated 20 years, I realized I had repeated one year of experience 20 times. I was bored out of my mind. (Thankfully, I had painting to keep me challenged.)
But when I made a conscious effort to reinvent myself, something magical happened. The boredom went away and I was again excited about every day, because once again I was doing what I loved. Though reinvention took me two or three very hard and intense years, now my to-do list of things I hope will change the world could keep me excited for the next 30 years or more.
No More Golf, Please!
Retiring friends tell me all the things they look forward to doing, things like sleeping in and more golf or tennis. Yet I usually get a call at the one-year mark. “I’m thinking about going back to work. I’ve never been so bored. Got anything?” Most tell me they wish they had never retired.
Chained to Their Jobs
Most of the people I know have worked in jobs they’ve never loved and been so reliant on the income that they were unwilling to take chances and find what they do love. Though paid well, with great benefits, they spent a good part of their lives looking forward to retirement. It’s why I tell my kids to find something you love, and make your interests or your hobby your work. “If you are unhappy more than 51 percent of the time, you’re in the wrong job, and it’s better if you’re not unhappy more than 5 percent of the time.”
I’d Rather Just Paint
Just yesterday a friend told me he was trying to decide it he would stay with his company for another five years. When I asked what he wanted to do, he told me, “I could probably muster up the strength for another five, but it would be hard. I’d rather be painting.” I told him he had answered his own question. But his reluctance was the money … could he survive? It seems that is always what handcuffs us to our jobs.
A good way to bring clarity is to ask, “If you got hit by a bus today, would you be happy that you’ve done what you want to do?” The answer is usually no. And if it is, maybe it’s time to pursue your dream.
What Is Worse Than Retirement?
During Christmas week I encountered a friend who had been retired about five years. When I asked what he was doing with his time, he said, “Other than investing, absolutely nothing. I have no hobbies, I don’t play golf. I tend to read a lot and think about when I was a somebody.” When I asked him if he was happy, he said, “I wish I was still working. I should never have retired.”
I’m not anti-retirement, I just hate to see great minds go to waste by sitting around. People were not put on earth to be unproductive and to let their brains atrophy. We all need a purpose, and if we can find a mission or a project or something we can get excited about and it requires retiring to do so, I’m all for it.
Now if you’re the person who wants to sit and rock for the rest of your life, I’m not judging, more power to you. I’m simply saying it’s not right for me.
An Untapped Resource
The world has missed a huge opportunity by putting people out to pasture when they reach retirement age. Though some have health or memory issues, most are vibrant, healthy, and have a lot of life left in them. Best of all, their mature brains are very wise and capable of doing great things. It saddens me that our culture seems to think someone over 65 is of little value anymore, when in fact this is where you find the best work ethic and the most experience. I’d like to see the world embrace this untapped resource.
No E-Mails, Please 🙂
So before you send me an e-mail to tell me about how busy and productive you are and that you are living your dream, you are, well, the point. Living the dream is what this little missive is all about. If you’re retired and your brain is engaged and you’re doing what you love, then retirement is what it should be.
As a young man of about 12 I remember wondering what I would do for the rest of my life. Though I had a lot of interests, none struck me as a lifetime role. I was very concerned that I had not figured it out, and the pressure seemed to be mounting, even at that age. But then, because I was curious, I found radio, got on the air, and ended up as a DJ in some big cities, which led me to station ownership and beyond. Of course, that was my first career and I’ve had many since, each of which I loved, and each of which had its time in my life.
The one critical factor is never waking up and dreading work. Yes, I’ve had a lot of those days, but the majority have not been a chore. That is the ultimate measuring stick.
I’ve had to turn to God on a regular basis to find out what’s next, to find a purpose bigger than myself — which is why I’m on this path to help people discover painting. But I have always found it.
At 17 I was working at Challenge-Cook Brothers, a cement truck factory. I had to be there at 5 a.m., the factory was loud and hot, and the work was back-breaking. My co-workers, most of whom were in their 50s, used to talk about how much they hated their jobs, how much they could not wait to retire. It was one of the first important lessons for me. I too was complaining to myself, but I decided instead to seek ways to make the work fun and challenging, which resulted in inventing some new processes to save the company time and money. It was also a lesson in knowing I did not want to be doing this for the next 30 years of my life.
Amazingly, most of the people I worked with were smart people who felt trapped. Trapped by house payments, trapped by families to support, and we talked about dreams they had been afraid to pursue because they might lose everything. Though I had not been in their shoes, it was an eye-opener: most would never know if they could have succeeded because they did not try.
The Message to the Rest of Us
My dear friend’s tragedy led me to think about never wasting another day and trying to survive, and to stay as healthy as possible so it might not happen to me. And though I seem to get a lot done, it’s a reminder that big dreams are yet to be accomplished, more people need to be helped through my work, and we should never waste a single second because that second might be our last.
Make Your Kids and Grandkids Read This
One day you’re 17 and you have dreams. Then suddenly, it seems like overnight, you’re married, then having kids, then your kids are going to college, then your career is nearing its end, and often, too often, there is much to do and it seems the time left is short. My grandmother used to tell me this, and I never believed her, until it happened to me.
Life is never long enough. Never ever spend a day doing what you don’t love. Yes, of course you have to do your taxes, go to school and learn, but once you’re in the world, you are responsible for your life. How you burn those 80,000 hours determines if you look back and say it was worthwhile or a waste. Don’t let anyone force their dreams on you. Don’t pursue anything unless it’s your dream. And if you don’t yet know your dream, be curious, try everything, and you might stumble into your life’s work. But if you don’t try different things and instead just wait and hope, you might end up forced into a dead end job that traps you.
Choose big dreams and chance them. You are perfectly capable, no special advantage required. Sweat overcomes advantage. I know kids with rich parents who never did a thing with their lives, and poor kids who became billionaires because they worked harder than everyone else.
It’s not about money. Money is only a tool; it helps, but it’s not happiness. Again, I know unhappy billionaires. Life is about rich experiences, making great memories, and changing the world with your ideas. Yes, YOUR ideas. There is no substitute for hard work. Smart is nice, but smart without application isn’t smart at all.
Find a Passion
I’m driven to write this today because I keep running into miserable people who are bored and feel trapped. Action and curiosity will work to your benefit. If you have time, try something new, go to an event you know nothing about, volunteer, find something to get excited about. If your body moves and your brain works, you still have a gift to contribute.
That’s why I love painting, and especially plein air painting. It’s an engaged community, you can make loads of friends, you can be outdoors with others, you can travel the area or the world, and you can be creative. It truly is the new golf. Best of all, you have something to challenge you (it’s not easy, but anyone can learn it), and if you want, you can make some extra money or even a great living once you get good at it.
Be productive. Be happy. Do what excites you. You won’t regret it.
What about you? Are you bored? Are you spending your time doing what you love? If not, why not? Don’t wait even one more day.