Turning 50 brings up a slew of new issues one must deal with in life, not the least of which is eventual retirement. So, today I went to lunch with Rene’ and I asked her poignant self-reflective questions as I ponder the next 25 years of my life and potential retirement. As I used her as a sounding board, I asked, “Is working keeping me from something I would rather be doing in life? I don’t think so, yet could it be? How come I cannot think of anything else I would rather do? Should I be this content in what I am doing? Why do I never want to retire?”
Oh, and fuck off AARP (Association for the Advancement of Retired People) with all your new junk mail in my mailbox. Yet I digress…
Some time ago I blogged about the concept of success—it was during this writing that I experienced my personal epiphany that many of my currently-held beliefs about life and beyond are very Buddhist in nature; I did not seek Buddhism, never desired Buddhism, yet it appears Buddhism eventually found me. It is now apparent to me that it was inevitable our paths would intersect at some point. The essential point of that Buddhist blog was: Find what you love in life, do it, and do it really hard—hence, success.
Very Buddhist. Very Jimmy.
However, I realize this sentiment is not true for a great many people.
What if you do what you love, do it hard, and it pays back no reward?
I was reminded of this as I was reading the following post in my online course from an older student, Larry, concerning a concept from psychologist, Abraham Maslow:
“Maslow writes, ‘Even if all our needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop unless the individual is doing what he is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be happy.’ So many of us have big dreams. I was a bass player for years at one time -that’s all I did and all I wanted to be was on the big stage…that was my strongest desire. Then came the family and the Mrs. said that I have to get a real job. I guess a lot of noise got in the way. I chose this subject because I understand the feelings of emptiness by not achieving my true goal as a musician – it’s like an empty void.”
Back to Larry and his void in a moment.
I am not an artist and it seems the artist relationship with contentment is far more elusive for them than most. Creative artists tend to have a drive unlike many others. Creators MUST create.
For myself, I am quite content in life. According to Thomas A. Edison, I am also in trouble.
“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”
Epic failure. I suck.
However, according to another American icon, Benjamin Franklin, I got it going on concerning my contentedness.
“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”
So, which is it? Should I be content in what I do have? Or should discontent act as an agent to drive me to soar to new progress and heights?
Perhaps American author and progressive John Steinbeck brings the two ideas together, most succinctly paints the human condition, and certainly makes my point:
“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.”
I love that. If it weren’t bad enough, the Bastard Time only serves to chew away at our fleeting hope for utter content.
Perhaps it is the human condition (capitalist American condition?) to have our needs met only to create more needs to have met…a dysfunctional cyclical recipe for chronic discontent. After all, there is always a next step, always a new mountain, always one who is smarter, wealthier, happier, more notorious…the battle to achieve to the top is, eventually, always a losing battle.
Where does the discontent madness stop and the contentedness peace begin?
To Larry and the rest of those who want to “make it” and will not be happy until they do so, I have many questions. I would say that there have been many a bass player who achieved the dream to play on the big stage, only to be discontent. If we are not content in what we do have in the present, what makes us think we will be content when we have what we think we want in the future? Further, is it the sole acts of playing the bass, painting the picture, singing the song, writing the book, or playing the part that makes one content? Or is it the big stage, the art show, winning The Voice, having a best seller or achieving notoriety that is the real objective?
I write this blog because I like to write. I am doing what I love. Sure, I like for people to read it, yet it is not the reason I do it. Therefore I ask my driven and discontent friends, is it the practice of your art that you desire or the fame and notoriety of your art that you seek? Is it both? Is a lot of the former and just a bit of the latter?
The only guarantee that comes with content is in the content you feel in the moment.
Right now. I guarantee it.
Like Larry, all of us have our bass-player-on-the-big-stage type dream and I believe we should aspire to those dreams with all our hearts. Yet, not being content in the moment is living in the illusion of the “one day,” as is ONE DAY I will be happy, ONE DAY I will be fulfilled, ONE DAY, when THIS or THAT happens, I will be content. No you won’t.
So the Buddhist leaning Jimmy leaves you with today’s good word: As you seek your dreams, remember that if TODAY is not your ONE DAY, ONE DAY will never happen. The Bastard Time will see to that.