We went on vacation recently and it was wonderful. Work has been pretty busy and pretty intense lately. We love what we get to do, but it sometimes feels overwhelming. The pressure gets weighty, even though it is mostly a pressure we put on ourselves. The expectations and deadlines loom and swirl. It is so nice to get to take a break, to relax and breathe a little slower.
There is a reason tourism is one of the highest sources of income for most municipalities. Whether it be a country or a city, people love to visit things. They love to get away.
All of this is nice and lovely, but it can be dangerous too.
Like most people, we found ourselves imagining retirement. We talked about what we would do and how we would just rest forever. I think we all sometimes dream about retirement as this kind of eternal vacation. A time when we just take it easy. We are free of the worry and work of life. Extreme comfort. A never-ending vacation.
The Meaning of Work
We are back home now and I am currently working. I hope most people feel this way, though I am not sure they do: I love coming home from vacation about as much as I love getting away. We adore our lives in Brooklyn. And, with all of its challenges, we enjoy our work.
I am not sure retirement is going to be the haven I imagine. Life needs meaning. And comfort is not the same as meaning. The thing that usually comes with that sense of stress and worry is a sense of purpose. We are worried because we are taking risks. We are stressed because we are doing something that matters. We are tired because we are working very hard at it.
Obviously, this is not true of everyone. A lot of people are just working to work. They might retire and prefer it. But they will probably just rest to rest. It won’t really mean any more or less than their working times. If we are worried and stressed for no reason, the reprieve of retirement is certainly preferable. But not ideal.
Retirement (or vacations, or rest) can become a sort of numbing. Its value is not in and of itself but in the absence of what was numbing us before. We replace one numbing agent with another. And that is not really the same thing as rest.
A Matter of Perspective
One of the things that most annoys me about living in New York is when people talk about how terrible life in the city must be. How they could not possibly live in a place like New York. I get what people are saying and I know they mean well. But if you cannot live somewhere, that says more about you as a person than it does anything about the inherent value of the place. I really think Kylie and I could live anywhere. We love nature and we love the city. We love crowds and we love privacy. We love the challenge of being around lots of diverse perspectives and the comfort of being around like-minded people. There is value in it all.
The same is true about work and rest. There is value in work. Value in rest. The key to a happy and meaningful life is not finding the easy road. It is not freeing oneself from stress. It is about finding a proper perspective. One that repurposes our stress for what it is – a desire for meaning and a byproduct of that pursuit.
Life is not meant to be easy. It is meant to be meaningful. And to achieve a meaningful life, we need to rest. We need to play. And we need to work. The key to it all is the perspective we choose along the way.