Doing everything “right” doesn’t guarantee you a long life

“Every step that you take, could be your biggest mistake.”
– Coldplay

We are conditioned from an early age to recognize what is “smart” to do. Pay attention in school, get good grades, figure out what “you would love to do”, take classes that put you on track to study these things, excel in these studies, get a job, get an apartment, find a partner (who’s run the exact same race) and make some new little people who can perpetuate the cycle.

It’s no wonder the world is full of self help books. People lead lives that bore them out of their mind and seek a deeper meaning or purpose. And I can already hear the universal cry of the mindless right now: “I don’t feel that way!”

Good for you. If that’s the case, this post doesn’t apply to you. But others do feel that way, quite a few given the amount of articles, books, blogs and shows tackling the problems of “bullshit jobs“, “meaningless lives”, “wasted time” and “problems of being extraordinairly mundane”.

“Graeber’s essay struck a chord. In the United Kingdom, YouGov found that about a third of workers said their jobs made no meaningful contribution to the world. In Holland, a similar survey found an even higher figure, 40%. He expanded on his essay in his new book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.”

Humans have always tried to figure what the point of it all is. Why are we here, where did we come from and where are we going? These questions have been with us for as long as we have been able to contemplate existence. This post isn’t about answering those questions. This post is about me ranting.

This post is directed at the people who are taking stock of their lives and getting depressed by what they see. And sort of explains why I jumped in at the “deep end” and committed to spending all my cash on something that will leave me with “nothing of tangible value”.

Spiderman

 

EVERYTHING CAN GO WRONG, IT FEELS SUPER DANGEROUS… BUT YOU SHOULD STILL TAKE RISKS.

So many people dream of travelling long term, or at least longer term than a three week vacation. The hurdle people struggle getting over is imagining everything that can go pear shaped: they could get robbed/murdered/raped, the plane/train/tuktuk could crash, they could contract a terrible disease  which leaves them disfigured, paralyzed or dead, they could lose all their belongings in freak accidents, they could get arrested, falsely accused of drug trafficking and end up in a South-American prison for life(!)…

Or they could travel for a year, then come home and find the job market completely closed, the housing market too difficult to get back into, all their welfare will be suspended because they need to have been employed this past year to be eligible for welfare (should they get sick or hurt)… The list goes on and on.

These problems are, of course, potentially real. It’s not a bad idea to have thought them through before jumping into things. But to be honest, you could potentially be hit by a bus on the way to work as well. The plane on the way to your two week vacation in the Bahamas could also crash. You could develop cancer or contract a horrible disease back home too. Life is full of risk no matter where you live and what you do and yes, some professions/actions/hobbies are more risk filled than others, but then: if you are truly happy living life as free of risk as is humanly possible, this post probably isn’t referring to you and you should keep do whatever floats your boat. Like I said: This post is directed at the people who are taking stock of their lives and getting depressed by what they see.

I had a going away party before I left Oslo with a bunch of my friends and they were all super excited about my leaving and the trip that was ahead of me. I had one friend who voiced a slight concern. Strictly out of love, it was coming from a good place. He mentioned that he was concerned that I was selling my apartment and exiting the housing market as it was incredibly difficult to get into in the first place, and me being away for a few years and spending all my cash would probably make it near impossible to get back in.

I pointed to the map I had hung on the wall detailing my planned route around the world and said “Yea, but I get all of this”. He looked it over and said “yeah… that is a very good point.” (no doubt he meant it too) “But you could wait until retirement or something maybe…? You know… You’ll have more security.”

I love him for caring, it’s important to me that this doesn’t come across as criticism of my friend, because he has a point worth considering, and he only said this because he cares about me. With that said, I feel this touches upon something that is very important to most people, but rarely tackled outside of Hollywood or poetry: The balance between a long life and a good life.

My reply to my friend was this:

  1. My knees are already pretty bad from my squash playing so even mountain hikes over 3 hours are out of the question for me, so who knows how they will be if I reach 67 years of age.
  2. My father died when he was 50. He never got retirement.

My father went to a good school, got super grades and a great degree, started working at a steady, reputable company and made a more than decent living. He got himself a wife, two kids, two cars, a big house, insurance – the works. He stayed at this company, excelled, got promoted… In short: He did everything right.

And then he died.

My dad

My dad

My father never got retirement. He never got “the dessert of life”, he never saw what his kids grew up to be – never got to spend the majority of his days travelling, reading, picking the weed out of the lawn (which is something he loved doing on sunny weekends).

My point here is summed up in one sentence: Just because you do everything “right”, that doesn’t guarantee you a long life.

I thought this was obvious to everyone, but during my planning of this trip and after starting it I have learned that isn’t the case. Or rather, people get it, it’s just that we are conditioned to think as if our days will go on until we grow old and die naturally. It’s a self preservation thing, constantly thinking you can die at any moment wont exactly make you less depressed. But it’s too easy for us to forget we have such a limited amount of time too.

It’s a self preservation thing, constantly thinking you can die at any moment wont exactly make you less depressed. But it’s too easy for us to forget we have such a limited amount of time too.

Yes, you can take precautions. You can plan some for the future, take steps to make it as comfortable as possible, but the “normal way” is not the only smart way to do this. People who think and act outside the box are not something to be ridiculed, they are not reckless or stupid, they are just different. Their approach to life is different. Maybe their approach wont work for you, but then maybe your approach absolutely wont work for them either. Just because a majority does something doesn’t make it right.

We should start breaking the wheel. Society is moving on auto-pilot and it’s killing our souls. Everyone goes through the same motions, thinking they have freedom and a choice because they can choose between carpenter or real estate agent. That is a tiny life choice to have. You still have the pressure to get the mortgage, do the payments, the tuitions, the whirlpools that grabs all your cash so you need to make more to stay “on track”. Half the jobs out there are just made up so people will have something to go to. We waste our time doing largely meaningless chores from the time we enter school until we might reach retirement. The most time consuming thing in people’s lives is pretending their work is really important, because they need it to mean something. We define ourselves through our work in order to be viewed as successful and admitting to having a job just to pay bills so you have time for your hobbies or true passions is viewed by many as “un-ambitious” and “lazy” and therefore “unsuccessful”.

But your work does not have to define you. Especially when so many jobs are bullshit jobs.

Just because you do everything “right”, that doesn’t guarantee you a long life.

This is just my opinion, not necessarily fact. Some will agree with me, some will not, but if there is one thing I’ve learned while being on the road for over a year now it’s that we exaggerate the  importance of things and situations in everyday life and it prevents us from potentially enriching our lives.

People back home will freak out if someone scratches their car. Mostly because the repair work will cost them. They get seriously annoyed if the weather is bad during their holiday. They freak out every time something costs money and spend countless hours looking for the cheapest offer for anything and everything, from the best car for the best price to the cheapest internet provider offering ok quality. That’s our lives. How can we get money and how far can we stretch that cash within the confines of a well regulated society?

I have a friend who cut his working hours to 80 % because he wanted more time for his hobbies and passions. He was my idol for doing that. His mother immediately started worrying about his pension and future, but he did it for himself and he made me so proud. Just this little thing, cutting 20 % of your work hours to have more time. This should be obvious to everyone, we all know that the one thing we can never get more of is time. When your time is up, you’re done.

I had a colleague who tried to do the same, but she ended up working 100 % for 80 % pay. Which always pissed me off to be honest. People will say “that’s how the world works, it’s cutthroat.” Like that’s something you just have to accept. Like if you would like that to NOT be your life you are being “naive”. A view that also always pissed me off. People who think working 140 % is “being realistic”. Like you are not perpetuating that vicious cycle yourself by pretending working yourself to exhaustion means you have noble qualities. It doesn’t make you noble. It doesn’t make you smart. It doesn’t even make you irreplaceable.

Like you are not perpetuating that vicious cycle yourself by pretending working yourself to exhaustion means you have noble qualities. It doesn’t make you noble. It doesn’t make you smart. It doesn’t even make you irreplaceable.

You don’t have to quit everything and travel the world full time. What I did is considered quite extreme by most people, even though to me it doesn’t feel extreme at all. I’ve travelled for 14 months and by now this feels completely normal. My life is normal for me. The fact that I will “have nothing” when I return home is not even something I think about. Who knows what will happen before 2020? Maybe I’ll never come home. Maybe I’ll come home and just pick up where I left off. Maybe I’ll go home and start something completely new. Either way everything on this trip is an opportunity. An opportunity for me to develop myself as much as I can. So is your life. You don’t have to “live every day like it’s your last”, that would exhaust you in no time. Just don’t let the mundane routine of everyday life kill every spark.

…if you want to go to India for four months to work in an ashram because you read “Eat. Pray. Love” and it spoke to you then you do that.

If you feel like you would like to do more with your life you should. It’s a painfully tiny point at the end of such a long post, but it is true and it is real. You don’t have to do anything “extreme”, but if you want to go to India for four months to work in an ashram because you read “Eat. Pray. Love” and it spoke to you then you do that. Your job can make it work, it is possible, the question is how important it is to you. You are much more than your work and you can do much more.

If you feel like you would like to do more with your life you should. It’s a painfully tiny point at the end of such a long post, but it is true and it is real.

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