Work hard now, enjoy later. Is it time to rethink that?

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Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the path that we’ve all been somewhat conditioned to take. And that is working really hard now so we can reap the rewards later. If you don’t work really hard now, you risk not being able to enjoy life when “later” finally comes.

Does that sound familiar to you? Well, it should, because that’s the exact path we took to become successful in our careers. Work hard, study hard, grind, and the payout comes later.

It makes absolute sense and has helped me get where I am today. However, I’ve really started to wonder whether it’s still the road I want to be on for the rest of my life.

But what makes me and us stay on this path? I’ve realized it comes to a few assumptions:

  • Later will definitely arrive
  • Life will be more enjoyable later
  • This will ultimately make me happy

So for this post, I want to explore each of these assumptions and how they relate to my own life.

Later will definitely arrive

Most of us work for 30 years to enjoy the following 30 years. Work hard, save hard, sacrifice, and enjoy life in retirement without having to work. Sounds great, right?

Here’s the problem. That following 30 years isn’t guaranteed by any means.

One of the toughest things about aging is seeing others around you deal with health issues.

I see it in family members, friends, colleagues, people at work, and in the news. You can’t look at the news without hearing about some life cut way too short by a tragedy. And, doesn’t it feel like you hear about them more and more, especially amongst people your age?

I definitely plan to live a long time, but that’s not something I can necessarily control.

Taking care of my body, eating right, and exercising, I can control. I can also try to avoid taking crazy unnecessary risks. But again, when it’s my time, it’s my time.

So when it comes to the normal timeline “trading 30 for 30,” I’m assuming that’s a fair trade. But what if it’s “30 for 10” or “30 for 5”? What if I don’t even get to 30 years and I never make it out of the work hard phase and “later” actually never arrived.

Then, in my opinion, it will have been a pretty poor decision to continue on the same path.

Life will be more enjoyable later

We all have a picture of what retirement looks like. For me, it was often laying in a hammock under a palm tree on the beach. The assumption is that’s the good life, and retirement is the best time to enjoy that. So it’s worth it to sacrifice time now for that moment in the future.

But you know what? Certain aspects of my health I’m already having to deal with. Herniated disks in my back already cause me to limit myself in some activities. Where will I be in my 60s?

Again, the assumption here is that retirement is the prime of my life.

I asked my parents recently, when do they consider so far has been the best period of their lives, full of the most joy and laughter? (If you haven’t asked this of your family, I’d encourage you to do so. I’m sure you’ll get a really interesting answer.)

Do you know what their response was? I thought it would be right now when they’re free, retired, able to travel anywhere and do anything.

Well, they told me it was when the whole family was under one house. When the kids were growing up. There was a variety every day. There was joy and laughter, albeit some tough times as well. But the range of emotion made life feel really full.

There was a sense of purpose trying to help everyone achieve their goals. They had more of their health to take on activities, more energy to live life. They didn’t say that life wasn’t good now; it was just the best in those times when looking back.

What I realized is that I’m in my prime time now. My wife and I have two young kids, and every day they make us laugh in some way.

At times we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing as parents, but in some ways, that adventure keeps life interesting. We take pics and videos every day of all the silly things they’re doing, and we’re doing together.

So by saying that I’m willing to miss out on a lot of these times now for free time later, I’m basically saying that this time is of less value. Based on the responses I’m hearing, however, from people later on in their retirement, this period is actually the best time to be alive.

So, should I try to have more of it or less?

This will ultimately make you happy

I’m 41 years old and more than any other time in my life, I’m trying to understand what it means to be content and happy. Another way of thinking about this is the idea of fulfillment.

We all have basic needs, whether it’s a roof over our heads or food on the table. We often think some of those basic needs include fancy gadgets or possessions, but once you have those, is that enough to keep you happy? Well, if it was, then all the folks with tons of money, who seem to have everything would be happy, but we all know that’s not the case.

Ever travel to a different country that is a little off the grid and doesn’t have the conveniences of our lives here?

Maybe it was a small island or a remote village in a 3rd world country. Do you look around and it seems like people seem happier there? Then after being there for a few weeks, do you feel that little tug to give everything up and join them?

I think it’s our inner little voice telling us what truly makes us content and fulfilled.

Yes, it’s having some of the basics so we don’t worry about our daily lives and putting food on the table, but more than that, it’s about having a community, feeling like you’re growing, and even more a sense that you’re contributing to the world.

Now, I have to be honest; this isn’t all original thought. I’ve been spending a good amount of time these last six months really examining what will make life extraordinary for the next 40 years, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from a lot of interesting thinkers like Tony Robbins.

So what should I do?

I’ve come to the conclusion that life is truly best right now. This is my prime time.

So, how do I make the most of it while not giving up my future completely? Obviously, if I stop working altogether, I could risk the necessities of life for myself and my family. Yes, there’s a balance there.

But I’ve decided to be as intentional as possible with my time.

I’m working because I want to. I’m taking on projects because I want to. I’m spending quality time because I want to.

I’m making smart investments and learning to leverage my time now. The payoff on those investments will come later, but I don’t necessarily have to give up extra time now.

In the worst-case scenario, I’ll work a little longer. People seem to do poorly when they give up work completely and feel they don’t have a purpose. I’m already planning on working in some capacity as long as I can, but again, because I want to.

I’m simply not content to trade time now for time in the future that might not come.

Passive Income, MD” is a physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Passive Income M.D.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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