“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.” Epicurus
“Out on a walk, an affluent Greek American visiting Greece comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the sea. The American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek but they were untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground. He asks the old man who the trees belong to.
“They’re mine, “ the Greek man replies.
“Don’t you gather the olives?” the American asks.
“I just pick one when I want one,” the old man says.
“But don’t you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them? In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it.”
“What would I do with the money?” the old man asks.
“Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you.”
“And then what would I do?”
“You could do anything you want.”
“You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?””
Lifted from Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein.
When Daniel Klein turned 72 he felt a need to “reset” his life’s priorities for living a great life in old age before he reaches “old, old age.” Who knows how old one must be to reach “old, old age” but 72 is within 10 to 20 years of it (maybe sooner and maybe later).
The Isle of Hydra
So Daniel Klein, Harvard philosophy grad, ran away (with a box of books on philosophy) to the tiny Greek island of Hydra (population 3900 on a total of only 25 square miles of land) for several months to figure out “the best and most appropriate way to use the time he had remaining on earth.”
While reading Epicurus he found direction. Epicurus is probably THE most misunderstood of all philosophers—he was NOT an advocate of bawdy drunkenness and orgies. In fact, he taught quite the opposite.
A couple notes early in Klein’s book sets the tone:
- For Epicurus ideas became a living, conscious philosophy of how to live life.
- A conscious philosophy allows people to consciously deliberate about their options in life.
- According to Epicurus, “This, in the end, is the prime purpose of philosophy: to give us lucid ways to think about the world and how to live in it.”
It’s Never Too Soon
These thoughts are especially important to me as I creep up on old age. People are a crack-up. They love to attempt to remind me that 66 isn’t old or old age is a state of mind, blah blah blah. They’re nuts. I’m getting old but you know what? I am perfectly okay with it. Actually I love it. I now have all the time I want to do the things I want. I just have to figure out what it is! Haha.
And you, sitting smugly in your office or home at 30 or 40 or 50 years old, wonder what does this old man’s ramblings have to do with me? Well… Like everything!!!
You don’t want to wait until you are old to figure out your purpose in life. Your life purpose is a moving target set as early as high school and gets modified at least every decade. I am not the same man I was a decade ago; shoot, not even 5 years ago.
The whole journey motif is all about the seeker of the good and right life. You never arrive. You just get on that train; disembark when it stops; and get back on when then time is right to do your next adventure.
So, bottom-line, what makes a good life? (You can’t go wrong beginning with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning).
Everyone’s purpose is certainly unique, yet with great similarity to other like-minded individuals. I have asked this question since I was 30 years old and I’m finally getting closer to uncovering it. Knowing I can modify it at any time is a quite useful notion.
I like to begin with a few questions that are important to me:
- What excites me? What do I really enjoy doing?
- How do I want to contribute to the good of other people?
- Who do I want to spend my free time with?
- How do I plan to care for my family and familial responsibilities?
Take a mere 15 minutes and without heavy contemplation, just write you’re your responses to these questions. (You’ll be 80% along the way—you know, the 80/20 Rule.)
Yes, answer these questions and you’ll better understand your purpose.
Photo courtesy of erhui1979 at istockphoto