There is so much beauty and goodness in the world to be experienced. But our choices and attitudes rob us of opportunities to participate fully in life; we get stuck in ruts of our own making.
It’s one thing to live with carefree abandon and adventure when you are single and young. But we have four kids, a mortgage and a picket fence. So how did we break out of the urban professional rut without opting out completely? Everyone has heard the proverbial wisdom about people on their deathbeds not wishing they’d spent more time at work. But not everyone makes decisions to ensure they get to the end with no regrets. We’re giving it a go.
For us, living well and fully is not about hedonism or an addiction to experience. We have found that deep satisfaction comes from harmonising, and integrating into normal living, three things: pleasure, betterness and meaning. Pleasure celebrates the beauty of the physical world, what we see, hear, touch, feel and smell. Betterness is about lifelong learning, becoming a better person.
However, the deepest satisfaction comes when we give and make meaningful contributions to the welfare of others. Pleasure and goodness alone are insufficient for the highest, most exhilarating form of living … meaning generated through service is fundamental. Most socially intelligent people realize this eventually, but many people pursue pleasure and goodness for decades before stumbling on the paradox that ‘giving back’ rarely happens if we wait until we think we can afford it.
Our human inclinations toward pleasure, betterness and meaning are strong, but the often self-imposed obstacles can be substantial. Welcome to a journey, where our response to these inclinations is a simple question, ‘why not’?
- Maria’s same-age cousin Darryn was the archetypal Aussie male; friendly, adventurous and a bit maverick. At age 40 he got motor neuron disease. We attended his funeral in June 2010 after a tragic and heart wrenching physical decline. Maria knew it could just as easily have been her.
- Our daughter Heidi, and her long time friend Glenn were destined to be together. Heidi was deeply happy as they set themselves toward a long relationship. Then on a fateful day in September 2010, Heidi received the call that changed our family forever. The skydiving plane carrying Glenn and 8 others crashed soon after take-off on New Zealand’s Fox Glacier. There were no survivors. For the first time we knew in our bones that sometimes things don’t work out OK.
- My parents did their best to protect my fair skin from the sun during my childhood. But in Australia in the 70’s sunburn was part of every summer. Three cancers including two malignant melanomas later, I have a constant sense of this dark, secretive poison playing hide and seek in my body. Not to find it will be fatal.
Live with no regrets. Live every month as if it was our last in this season. Savour the moment.
- It has helped us that we lived for many years on a very low and variable income. My job in the NFP sector and our decision that Maria remain at home when the children were young meant we raised our family hand to mouth. But we were happy and lacked nothing that mattered. That experience means that we have never taken money for granted. We have enjoyed a more conventional income in recent years but know we could forfeit it and live on much less if we chose to or had to. We gratefully take nothing for granted.
Practise contentment not envy. Pursue dreams and passions
- Like hundreds of thousands of others, we fantasised about travelling around Australia in a caravan. But that wasn’t enough. Because if you press pause on ‘real life’, even for twelve months, you still have to go back. So we thought about how to integrate what we wanted to experience into our regular living. We did buy a caravan, but instead of disappearing for one year, we’ve lived in it for three months every year, usually in three-five week blocks. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made.
- Instead of waiting to retire near the coast, we left our home of 20 years in inner city Melbourne and moved to our fantasy location on the Sunshine Coast. This meant leaving our three adult children in Melbourne and relocating our 14 year old daughter into a brand new life. It meant an insane travel schedule for me, working either in Port Moresby (2013) or Melbourne during the week, and home for three or four day weekends. Insane, costly and fabulous.
- We moved to Launceston in 2015 to enable Maria to be a present support when her parents’ health became vulnerable. Proximity has also enabled us to invest in relationships with her sisters and their families during formative times.
- Barwon Heads became home in mid 2016, as we look to settle in a local community near the sea but close enough to Melbourne to stay connected with loved ones there.
There are always options, we are not stuck. Choices have associated consequences, so either embrace the consequences and get on with it, or be content with the status quo.