When I was young, I was too busy, now I am old, I am too tired.
I had that quote written down in my notebook for ages. It’s from the film The Way, which I wrote a little about here, and it obviously had enough of an impact that I wrote it down when I was watching the film. It’s spoken, if I recall correctly, by the owner of one of the hostels along the Camino, explaining why he has never travelled the Camino himself.
It struck a particular chord with me because it seemed like such a sad statement about opportunity lost, and priorities misaligned until it is too late. One of my greatest fears is having regrets – a difficult fear to manage since a) it’s inevitable that you won’t do everything you might want to do, there simply isn’t enough time and b) it can be hard to predict what I might, once I am tired, regret not doing while I was too busy.
Still, it is at least worth being aware of the risk, and I think we can make some assumptions about the kind of things we’ll regret not doing, and the kind of things we might regret spending too much time on. Cody Jay wrote an excellent blog post about what we can learn from the regrets of the dying and it’s hardly surprising that most wished they hadn’t worked so hard. The things that make us too busy to walk the Camino (figuratively, or literally if you like) when we are young are probably not terribly fulfilling or worthwhile. In fact, to a large extent, it is probably these things, in order:
- Our jobs, which we don’t particularly enjoy and work too hard at for not enough reward, financial or emotional
- Shallow social interactions that we continue with despite not really enjoying them because we are frightened of being lonely
- Forgettable leisure activities that we don’t love and won’t remember, but are easy and superficially stimulating
That’s not to say that everyone has to find their dream job, exclusively have magical social interactions with extremely close friends, and spend their every waking minute ice-climbing in the alps or hitch-hiking round India. And if you think that, because I’m writing this blog, I’ve got this all nailed then let me tell you that I do my job solely because it pays me enough money to travel and go diving, that I regularly sit in pubs with people I don’t particularly like simply because it’s polite or convenient to do so, and I frequently spend whole evenings in front of the TV or playing the PS4. That’s fine, that’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with that (in my opinion).
All I’m saying is that if you’re not careful, that can become your whole life. You will be perpetually ‘busy’ with things that give you nothing but short-term financial gain or enjoyment, and when you finally have the time to do something else it would be very sad to find you were too tired to do so.
If I could give you just a few tips, though, or things to think about that might help you to live with fewer regrets, focusing on each of the three areas above, these would be them.
Don’t let your job suck time from you
I’m not going to talk about finding your perfect job because a) that’s a different topic and b) perfect jobs mean different things to different people. There’s a slightly utopian view that we should all be escaping the rat race, living in a van, and funding our quinoa habit by selling free-range artisan cupcakes on the beach. That’s fine if that’s what you really want to do, but remember that that sort of thing can make it very difficult to fund scuba diving, international travel, delicious meals, marathon entries, Patagonia mid-layers, and all the other things that make life fulfilling (depending, of course, on who you are and what you want from life). My point is that, like so many things, it’s usually a trade-off and there’s no need to feel you’re less of a free spirit if you choose to make a decent living in an office, if that allows you to live the life you want to live the rest of the time.
Here’s the key though. Whether you love your job or you hate it, whether you’re there for the joy of it or for the money, don’t let it eat up the best years of your life. Don’t give up your time to line someone else’s pocket, and definitely don’t give up your emotional wellbeing or ‘headspace’. Work the hours you are paid to work, work hard and work well and make friends, and then clock off and stop worrying about it and live the life you want to live. No one on their deathbed ever wishes they’d pointlessly worked until 6:30pm to look busy more often, or spent more evenings on their smartphone answering stupid emails.
Don’t let your social life suck time from you
Your social life is massively important. If you read that article I linked to earlier on about the regrets of the dying, you’ll notice that many people regretted letting their friends slip away. However I’ll bet they didn’t regret not spending more boring evenings in armpit pubs with tedious people, or hanging around with old friends who just made them feel bad about themselves.
Spend time with the friends you care about, and don’t let them slip away. On the other hand, don’t let your time be sapped by people who’s company you don’t enjoy, or who make you feel bad about yourself. Some of my friends mock me for allegedly having decided I have ‘enough friends’ and imposing a ‘one-in-one-out’ policy. Neither of these things are actually true, but I am aware that time is limited and I’d rather spend it with people that I value and whose company I enjoy. Those will be the evenings I remember, and that won’t seem like wasted time in the future.
Don’t let your own leisure time be a waste of time
Think hard about how you spend your leisure time, and start making the time to do more. Perhaps to do things you might be too tired to do if you keep putting it off until you have more time. Relaxing with a good tv series is absolutely fine, but don’t always settle for that sort of thing because it’s easy. Get hobbies, get interests, do things that make you feel alive. Do things that challenge, excite and reward you. Things you’ll remember when you’re older, and will want to tell people about. And that they’ll want to hear about. Do things that scare you, and that you fail at, and hate and never want to do again! That’s fine too, but get out there and do it.