Life is all about choices and the decisions we make about these choices. I always go back to one of my favorite quotes by the late M. Scott Peck. It is the first sentence and the first paragraph of the first chapter of his landmark book, The Road Less Traveled. It's three simple words of great truth, "Life is difficult."
He goes on to say, and I quote, "It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters." If you have never read this book, you really should. Either way, if you have or have not read the book, just focus on the words I just quoted.
Most people don't realize this simple, yet great truth. It's one of those forest and trees situations. People become so busy, so involved in the day to day noise, activities, challenges, problems, needs and so on they don't see this simple truth that life is, by its very nature, difficult. So, we plod on, mainly in what I'll term a survival mode, that is, just getting through each day, week, month and year until before we know it, we are at the other end of a finite continuum we call life.
One of the things that absorbs most people's time and life is a process we call "making a living." Essentially, this is the basic survival mode. Every living thing, but most obvious in the insect, bird, fish and animal species (humans are animals, of course) have to "make a living" in order to survive. To the lower forms of animals (I'll include birds, fish and insects as animals for this discussion), making a living is mostly involved with finding food to sustain life. Life is difficult for most animals because they don't have any other resources at their disposal other than the instincts they were genetically predisposed with.
Humans' Lives Are More Difficult
The human species is quite different. Obviously, we are the most advanced life form on this planet. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, humans live so much better, at least in most opinions, than the lower forms of animal life. We are genetically pre-disposed with creativity, inventiveness, reason, logic, technology we're able to create using these other traits and other gifts and talents.
But, the basic premise of making a living, is still, in its most basic definition, doing what it takes to sustain life. The early hunting and gathering bands were only a few points above the lower forms of animals. They were nomadic, following their food sources and doing the work of hunting and gathering to survive. But, making a living today is only a couple points above our ancestors.
In our modern, civilized societies, the work of hunting and gathering simply requires most people to travel by some modern conveyance to a supermarket where there is a near endless selection of food, fluids and everything else to sustain life. The same goes for clothing, shoes, transportation and every other requirement for survival. Of course, in the most highly developed societies, we have far more choices than we need. Less developed societies have fewer choices, but there is still a market place to gather their food and other needs. The few primitive societies left in the world still make their living the way our ancient ancestors did.
So, to get back to choices, we, especially in the most developed societies, have, what I opine as, too many choices. This makes life difficult in another way. We have choices as to where, geographically, we want to live. We have choices as to what kind of dwelling arrangement we want as our shelter. We have choices as to what kinds of clothes we'll wear to protect our bodies from the elements. We have choices as to how we'll transport ourselves to point A to point B and back again. We have choices of how we'll recreate (procreate is still the same old method, well, more or less when taking into account modern medical science). Our choices seem to be almost limitless.
However, one of the choices we have to make is how we'll cover the "price" of sustaining this modern life of near limitless choices. Just as primitive children in hunting and gathering bands were taught, as they grew toward adulthood, how to hunt for and gather the food the band required for survival, modern humans teach our children that they must learn to "work" to provide the necessities of survival for themselves and their family grouping. Once again, we term this necessary requirement of survival "making a living."
Here is where life gets more difficult for our modern, developed societies. Only a small portion of the population actually produces the basic food and fluids required for survival. That is how that small segment makes their living. In order for the rest of the population to secure their requirements, they must purchase the necessities. So, this massive segment of the population makes a living by working at something other than hunting and gathering. They work at some task that ultimately benefits the general society and where a need exists. They are compensated at a rate dependent on the complexity, skills, talents, abilities and special knowledge or training required to accomplish the tasks.
This is how most people are taught and initiated to make a living, from children through adults, by basic schooling through advanced and specialized education.
Making A Living vs. Building A Life
Life is finite. We know that. We also know that life is difficult and the more complex a society is the more difficult life is. We know we have basic requirements to sustain life and survive. And, we know we must do some kind of work or do something to make a living to survive for a finite period of time with the fantastic technology we have invented and created along with all the accumulated knowledge at our disposal. So, then, here is my question. Why are we still spending our lives making a living, much like our ancient ancestors only with modern means, instead of building a life for ourselves?
I differentiate these two concepts, making a living and building a life as follows. The former ultimately consumes a huge amount of our lifetime for the sole purpose of survival, very often doing something that is endured, tolerated, not necessarily enjoyed or liked and possibly even despised. The latter still requires time and, perhaps, a considerable amount of time, yet is thoroughly enjoyed, even loved, and very often is actually part of the total lifestyle of the individual or family group (in a family situation).
Have you ever considered whether you're building a life or just working for a living? This takes complete honesty. These are two distinctly different courses of life and choices. Many people think that building a life is buying a mortgaged house, owning at least a couple mortgaged vehicles, procuring some decent mortgaged furnishings, wearing nice mortgaged clothes, eating healthy mortgaged food, owning some mortgaged toys and maybe even a mortgaged vacation property, mortgaging educations for their children and if they are lucky, saving a little toward a basic retirement. I use the word mortgage to mean any form of financing including but not limited to house mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, student loans, etc.
I suggest that building a life is not about how much "stuff" you can acquire and be mortgaged to the hilt for. I suggest that building a life is determining how to do the work you love, that blends into your lifestyle, provides the necessary revenue to afford you a comfortable place to live, clothes to wear, vehicles for reliable transportation, quality food and all the other necessities of life. The best part is that you are able to do all of this without being mortgaged to the hilt. As a matter of fact, you will probably owe nothing to anyone. Living this kind of lifestyle provides personal and family freedom. It allows you and the family to be happy. And it fosters a peace of mind knowing that your life is as close to 100% under your own control as is possible in a modern, developed society.
When I suggest this concept to people who are "trapped" in the making a living syndrome and suggest they realign their thinking from just making a living to building a life, I usually hear the following excuses:
I have to make a living because:
· I have bills to pay.
· I can't afford to default on my house mortgage.
· I don't want my vehicles repossessed.
· My credit rating will drop because I didn't pay my bills on time.
· I don't have time to think about building a life, I have two jobs.
· My wife and I are both working three jobs between us.
· We have medical bills to cover.
· The kids are in school and it costs a lot to educate kids.
· This is how my father/mother did it and taught me.
· It's only realistic for people who don't want much.
· I'm too busy making a living to think about building a life.
I'm sure there are a lot more excuses. Everything in life is a choice. Life is difficult. Once we accept that, it doesn't matter anymore according to M. Scott Peck. Yet, people seem to think because they made one choice that they can't make another choice. It's much easier and less difficult to make an excuse than a different choice.
Building A Life And Living Free
So, what course on you on? Are you just making a living and keeping the wolves away from the door? Or, maybe, you're making lots of money and can afford all the "stuff" of life and over abundance, but you don't have the quality time to spend with your family, loved ones, friends and maybe even give back to the community and the world. In the words of the song made famous by songstress, Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is, the song writers, Leiber and Stoller, spoke about the disillusionment and disappointment so many people experience through their lives.
Why do so many people have to have three martini lunches and several drinks when they get home from work to "unwind?" Soon, marijuana will join alcohol as a legal "drug" of choice by millions and millions more people as it is legalized across the country and by the federal government, eventually. Why is there such a huge problem in developed countries, but especially the U.S., with illegal drugs including, but certainly not limited to, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth and a plethora of new, synthetic chemicals, glue sniffing, overdosing on over the counter drugs like a common cold medicine ingredient, DXM and abused prescription drugs. And, it's not just the ghetto, poverty stricken or teenagers. It's very successful business men and women. It's innocent children. It's the "beautiful" people who seem to have it all. No one seems to be immune.
What these people don't have is a life? They never learned how to build a life, so they make their living, accumulate all the "stuff" and are so disillusioned that they seek life on some kind of "higher plane" through substance abuse. And how is it that even innocent, young children are already experiencing this disillusionment? Is this what they're learning from their parents, teachers, peers, etc.
I propose to you that life is so very much more. Building a life focused on living free from: debt, accumulation of "stuff" that provides only momentary pleasure, stress, working at something that is a drag and drain on your energy and psyche, not having time to sit back and enjoy a good book, watching a movie, doing things with your family, enjoying community with friends and neighbors, etc.
Building a life is a choice. What do you really expect from your life during these finite years? What actually makes you happy? How much stuff do you really need? Why do you care what other people think (they are not living your life and they don't own you)? Who cares if you own (which you really never do) your house or rent it (or an apartment or condo or live in an RV or van). Where do you really want to live? What would bring you joy and contentment for work that becomes part of your lifestyle and doesn't control your life?
That's what building a life is all about. That's what living free is about. That's where you'll find true happiness in life. That's where you'll find the peace of mind we should all enjoy. That's when you can forget about life being difficult and asking the question, "Is that all there is?"
If you're seeking this from your life, I challenge you to make THE choice to stop just making a living and start building a life. It won't happen overnight, but it will never happen if you don't make the decision, have a vision of the life you really want, make the plan and then . . . start building your life.
I'd love to hear your plans, your thoughts, your idea and suggestion on how you and others can build a life and begin living freer and happier. Comment here, on the blog. Comment on the Living Free Facebook page or my Ed Helvey Google + page. If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask me and if you don't want it public, go to the Contact page and email me. And, share this article with others who will benefit from it.