Finding fulfillment: the only four things I still do, and the one I gave up

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Photo: © Tony Webster

A funny thing happens as you get older. All the noise and confusion of a busy career quiets. You begin to focus on what’s important. And you give up silly and unproductive behaviors.

Here are the only four things I still do. And the one thing I’m pleased not to do any more.

Learn

You might think that by the time you get to your sixties, you’d stop having to learn new things. For me, the opposite is true.

I am endlessly curious.

In recent work projects I have learned about brain biases, race, cybersecurity, autobiography, inflammation, developing software without code, and political attitudes.

I’ve been learning Python coding, piano playing, and cooking. And I just completed a workshop on idea development in which I got to meet even more people working on new ideas.

I’m living in a new city and learning about all the fun and enlightening things to do here.

Whether I can learn something new is a big factor in which projects I work on. If I’m learning, I’m happy.

Create

Creation is hard work. It’s also the most rewarding experience you can have.

I’d rather be writing than almost any other activity. (Maybe that’s why you get to read a new blog post from me five days a week.)

I love editing, which is another form of creation.

And for me, making a new spreadsheet model also feels like creation.

There are two things I like about creating.

First, when you are doing it, you enter a flow state which is both highly productive and highly pleasurable. Your brain is doing what it’s best at, with nothing in the way but solving the problems associated with creation. That’s pure fun.

And second, when you are done with it, there is a new thing in the world that was not there before. You can look at it and say “Wow, I created something.” That is awesome, too.

Laugh

People seek out enjoyment. They want to laugh. But that’s not what I mean when I describe one of my four remaining activities as “laugh.”

What I mean is that I am a smartass who sees everything through the lens of humor.

For me, humor means seeing things differently. How would a chef think about politics? What’s the Maine equivalent of a Masshole? How many ways are there to mess up a simple transaction?

My brain’s unceasing search for the humor in situations keeps life interesting. It’s involuntary at this point, but I can at least refine it and tap into it to weather unpleasant things with ironic detachment and turn boring things interesting.

It is also a way to connect to other people. Without it, I have no idea how to make friends.

And it’s central to my work. I couldn’t run a workshop or write a book without making jokes — hopefully ones that teach you something, but jokes nonetheless.

Love

One of the best things about being older is that you know who you love.

I spend much of my time now with my wife, and that continues to give me nearly constant joy and happiness because she is such a wonderful, creative, and intelligent person.

My two children are adults now. They don’t need as much daily attention, but loving relationships with these fully realized human beings has its own rewards.

The difficult time I spent with my father as he was dying was tolerable and rewarding because of the love I had for him. That time also deepened my relationship with my brother, my sister, and my mother.

Part of what love means to me now is taking care of people. There is a lot of work to do on my new house, but that’s part of taking care of my family. And I’m putting energy into taking care of my mother as she makes the transition to living without my dad.

Finally, I am channeling more love into myself. My health is much improved in the last year as I have put energy into all forms of physical activity and self-care. A healthier life is essential not just to living longer, but to living in a way that has less suffering and more enjoyment. I am lighter and stronger, which is way better than being heavier and weaker.

I’ve always egotistically thought I was an incredible person. But that’s a shallow form of self-love. Actually investing time into yourself turns out to be more enjoyable than narcissism.

No more ambition

I spent most of my career attempting to be the best. I wanted to be part of teams that made the best software. I wanted to create a new textbook publishing model that was faster than the competition. I wanted to be the top analyst or the most famous and influential author. I wanted to change the world by ridding it of bullshit.

That kind of striving can be all-consuming. It tends to get in the way of enjoying the acts of learning, creation, laughter, and love that create fulfillment. No matter what you accomplish, there is always another mountain to climb. The victories don’t last that long. And there are always setbacks.

I’ve accomplished much of what I set out to accomplish. Successful author, check. Solid freelance career that’s actually enjoyable, check. Living in a place I can fully enjoy, check. Financial security, check.

I don’t miss the ambition, which was like an annoying glare blinding me to what was really important. It did its job, I don’t need it any more.

Ironically, I feel like with the pressure of ambition removed, now I may end up creating some more amazing things than if I was driven to “succeed” every moment of every day.

What are your four things?

What do you need more of in your life?

What would you like to get rid of?

What are you doing to get yourself in a position to spend more time on what matters, and less time on bullshit?

One response to “Finding fulfillment: the only four things I still do, and the one I gave up

  1. I retired at 72 from my former occupation…That lasted about 10 weeks… A good friend who owns a beer distributorship offered me a part-time job 10-12 hours a week stocking beer and waiting on customers… It’s one of the best decisions of my life and I’m having a blast.

    That work, which supplies a nice little side income every two weeks has allowed me to play more golf, purchase some additional camera equipment for my other hobby and hone my culinary skills.

    We have taken the dog for many more rides in the car… We go for ice cream a few evenings a week after dinner and we’re enjoying life more because I/we made a conscious decision to simply not do what I/we don’t want to do.

    What does that mean?… Destination wedding invitation?… Nope…Invitation to a party that will also certainly be attended by “friends” with differing political opinions… Nope…Attend granddaughters art exhibition or choral concert?… Yeppers… Friends funerals?… Yes, for a last goodbye.

    I have a standing breakfast every Friday morning with 8 other lifelong friends… Sometimes it’s all of us, sometimes only 2-3 BUT, we’ve all known one another for a long period of time and we’ve shared life, death, cancer, heart attacks etc. together… Nine guys with as diverse a mix of backgrounds as could be possible… Blue collar workers, professional practitioners, corporate guys… I know, in a pinch, if I would call any one of them for help they would come.

    It has come down to family and friends at this stage of my life.

    It took me this long to realize that was all that really should have mattered all along.

    Thanks for the post!

    Ernie

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