"I want the easy life."
"Summertime and the living's easy..."
A lot of us dream of retirement all the time because of the beautiful allure of free time, no work, and all play. If we are being honest - which a lot of us are not - we really just do not want to work. Work is labor. Work is toiling. Work is taxing.
None of these words ever fall on our ears in a comforting way. Kids do not like school when they are little because it is the opposite of staying home and playing video games. It is an extended obstruction to their free time.
Yeah, sure, we learned we need to work 9-5, 40 hours a week from our previous century comrades as way of making a proper living and providing for our families. The previous century (the 1800s, if you are keeping track) had a semblance of the 40 hour structure following the industrial revolution and the advent of the assembly line. The previous century, however, we still farmed and worked in artisan shops. If you know anything about farming, responsibilities are not confined to eight hours per day, but can last from sun up to sun down.
Rewind many centuries before that and you will find our dear original friends, the cavemen. Work for them could not have been more simple. They must have had a poster of Maslow's hierarchy of needs nailed to their cave wall and followed the base levels as their job description. They needed food, shelter, and protection in order to survive and perpetuate the species. Animal Biology 101. Survival 101.
Even though a caveman would take one look at someone now spending eight hours stressfully churning out blog posts to meet a digital marketing quota and struggle to see how it codes for survival, we still go to work in order to survive.
If survival is so important, why do so many of us hate getting up in the morning and going to do it?
Oh that is right, because no one thinks about it as survival.
People think of it as something they are supposed to do. That their parents told them to do. That their teachers told them to prepare for. That society tells them is necessary for society to stay strong. That you get to complain about with your friends over beers at happy hour.
We are never taught why, though.
Steven Pressfield wrote an incredible little manifesto called the Warrior Ethos in which he discusses how to accept that life is a battle but in accepting it you are able to define and pursue your own honor and glory.
That honor is authenticity and the glory is being able to live a life free of the expectations of society and actually enjoy how you spend each day.
A little different than the image of soot-covered factory workers grinding through the day for the dollar they will spend on whiskey, huh?
Life is struggle. Nothing about life is easy.
The "easy life" that people dream about achieving still requires just that: achieving.
Achieving requires a whole heck of a lot of work. What I find to be the most glorious irony is that those who work really hard their whole lives and finally achieve the "good life" in retirement stop and realize that they actually enjoyed the work and then find other work to do in retirement and do not actually live the life that they originally imagined.
But they are okay with it.
Pressfield describes a story of the Ancient Spartan soldiers who, after defeating the Persian army, asked the Persian private chefs to make an opulent Persian feast for them. Once the feast was prepared in all its exaggeration, the Spartans still ate their customary stew and barley bread, asking the Persians "why would we let you rob us of our poverty?"
The dark humor aside, the Spartans would not let the Persians provide some kind of first class treatment that would allow the Spartans to relax and dissolve their way of life as warriors.
Spartans were proud of their struggle.
They loved that their life was a constant fight. There was no other profession but as a soldier. All that they ever learned was survival. And survival motivated them.
What motivates us today? Instagram followers?
Buddhism teaches that all of life is suffering. It does not matter how great your life is, there is always some form of suffering or sadness inherent in daily life. In Buddhism, the only respite - or retirement - from the suffering is death. To achieve that relief, you must accept the suffering.
If you view survival as the ultimate goal, accept that life is a battle, and that you are a warrior, you are invited to choose what authentically fulfills you.
Instead of what kind of retirement you have dreamt of, what kind of work have you dreamt of? What kind of struggle do you enjoy? Maybe it is a hobby or a job you had during a college summer.
If you can answer that question, the next question is: how does that job contribute to your survival?
Remember that survival = struggle, so what kind of struggle does that job offer you, and what about that struggle do you enjoy?