Driving home the other night, I was flipping through the channels on my radio when suddenly the words that emerged from the speaker system made me almost stop the car.
A male lecturer was telling the story of King Solomon, regarded by some as the wealthiest and wisest monarch of all time.
In Solomon’s own words, as documented in Ecclesiastes:
“I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens… I have increased in wisdom more than anyone…I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them… I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself…I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.”
I think most people at some time have dreamed of attaining great wisdom, enjoying all the good things that life has to offer, participating in fulfilling projects and living life in a beautiful natural setting. I know I have, and often still do. So what was the result of all these peak experiences?
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
So it turned out that all that pleasure-seeking and achieving turned out to be of no substance? That the only true delight was to be found in doing the labour that he enjoyed for the sake of it? It appears so, from this later conclusion:
“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.”
Excuse me? One of the richest most powerful men in history says to stop pushing yourself and striving, that the most satisfying things in life are to eat and drink and simply enjoy the work of your life?
Can you relate at all to the description of workaholism as grief and pain, and a mind that can’t rest at night?
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard at fulfilling work that has meaningful results that benefit others, but it’s the question and meaning at the root of these statements that’s worth analyzing.
Ask any working Mexican who earns an astoundingly small fraction of your income. I would wager that he or she would say absolutely yes to Solomon’s description of what truly satisfies – and that’s part of why statistics indicate that Mexico, which has a far lower standard of living than the US and Canada, has much happier people. Family/social values factor into that, too, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.
Today’s topic is more about purpose, vocation and balance – how and why we choose the work we do and what we aim to do with the precious and limited hours of our lives. After discussing Solomon’s life and lessons, the radio lecturer (who turned out to be Pastor Chuck Swindoll) went on to talk about the word “enough”.
What if, right now, you decided that you have enough?
What if you decided that whatever you or your family earn right now is enough?
What if the home you live in, whether you rent or own, is enough? (I’m living in a little rented cottage, so don’t think I’m having these thoughts while living in my own mansion, e.g. “easy for her to say so”)
What if all the stuff you have right now, was simply enough? Even if your sofa is outdated and a little worn around the edges, your clothes are several seasons “out” or your car has more miles on it than you’d care to admit.
How would you live your days, if you were to decide that everything you have right now is enough? Would you make different choices? Would you stop pushing yourself so hard to achieve? Would you enjoy life more? Might some of your stress-related health challenges disappear? Would you sleep better at night?
I know, some of you might be in debt and need to pay it off (I have some to pay off, too). Some of you might be living in a home that’s far from ideal. I dream of owning a beautiful house someday, too. But what if I accepted the fact – and it is a fact – that renting for the rest of my life would be “enough”? That I could be happy anyway? Radical.
I found that when I asked myself this “enough” question, a big part of me went “HUH?” It’s so contrary to what we’re conditioned to believe. What’s your reaction?
We’re so focused in our society on bigger, better, more. Get the job, work at getting promoted, aim for the top. Start with a small rented condo, move into a bigger one, save up and buy a house. Start writing articles for a local paper, work your way up to writing for a national newspaper, publish a bestselling book.
Obviously, since I specialize in helping people live up to their potential and create happier more fulfilling lives, I’m an advocate of becoming and experiencing all that you can. But where does one draw the line? When does it stop being living and become “striving” or toil?
When I look over my own career path (not including medicine) moving to Mexico and creating my dance, coaching and speaking businesses were all labours of love, there was some hard work involved but very little of I would call "toil". Now, as I feel intense peer and personal pressure to put in 15 hour days as most experts/authors/bloggers do “to take it to the next level”, I’m thinking “no thanks”.
Could I be content living with my income exactly as it is right now, for the rest of my career, even when colleagues are earning five or ten times as much? I sure hope so. If I couldn’t, I think there would be something seriously wrong with me. Is there something seriously wrong with our society? I suspect there might be.
What would it mean to you if you decided that your life, right now, is enough? What would that give you permission to stop striving or toiling for? What would it mean to just enjoy life, eating and drinking and enjoying the work you’re blessed with or choose to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts and would also be happy to answer any questions you have for me about this – please let me know by commenting below!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope I’ve helped you move closer to living a life you truly love!