I was reading the book “Sapiens” last year when I came across this paragraph that I noted down:
“Contradictions are an inseparable part of every human culture. In fact, they are culture’s engines, responsible for the creativity and dynamism of our species. Just as when two clashing musical notes played together force a piece of music forward, so discord in our thoughts, ideas and values compel us to think, re-evaluate and criticise. Consistency is the playground of dull minds.
This is such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact it is a vital asset.”
I took some solace from that, because I’m suffering from Cognitive Dissonance right now! As you may be aware, I like the retirement life but I miss the fulfilment I found in paid work too. This is just a fact, regardless of how often I tell myself – or others tell me – to just content myself. Well, I can’t. And I fear that if I do fully embrace the retired life and become “content” with consistency to my days, then I’ll become the “dull mind” referred to in the preceding paragraph.
I do get riled sometimes when people tell me I should be “happy” not having work to go to. Happy? Cows are happy. Being constantly happy would be so depressing. Like being immortal, which is, when you think about it, a fate worse than death. I’ve no ambition to be constantly happy and content because I fear that, if I ever do, then I’ll have lost my ambition for growth. Sometimes, of course, I’m very happy to have no work to go to. And sometimes I’m not. What’s wrong with that?
People telling me to content myself and “be happy” is like when people used to go on about having “fun” at work. In my book, fun was fun and work was work. The contradiction between the two somehow helped produce enjoyment and fulfillment from each separate activity. I think I enjoyed and appreciated weekends and my own leisure time much more when I was working than I do now. On the other hand, when I was at work and earning money I had some kind of peace of mind that I was contributing to an activity that was bigger than myself and my own preoccupations. Okay, I “had” to go to work, but having obligations that lay outside of myself was a good thing – it helped me appreciate my own time when I had it.
I never really saw work as “fun” though. It was a serious business and why shouldn’t it be? Work can be fulfilling, satisfying, rewarding and a lot of other things too, but fun? Not if you’re doing it properly. Show me someone who’s having “fun” at work and I’ll show you someone who’s not taking it seriously enough. Yes, Bruce Springsteen seems to be having a fun time at his work, but only because he’s deadly serious about it. I don’t know what he does to relax, but I bet it’s not writing or playing music. After all, that’s his job.
In the same way, retired life is not, and shouldn’t be, the soma induced happiness of a Brave New World. What’s wrong in not being 100% satisfied with the retired life versus the working one? For me, the fact is I could go back to work and, while it’s absolutely not a siren song, it can be a distracting tune. If I blot it out, I’ll need something to replace it. I’ve tried voluntary work, but it wasn’t really for me. There seemed to be something missing in it (apart from the money!) Perhaps it was the fact that I knew I wouldn’t even be there if I had “proper” work to go to? Maybe I need to try a few other types, but I’ve got to be honest here: unless it’s a vocation (which I’ve yet to find) if I’m going to work, as in devote my labour to produce a result, I want to be paid for it.
Sometimes I think I would love to be a Mr Money Moustache, ripping off roofs, excavating Victorian furnaces, working with my hands. Getting paid, maybe with a six pack of beer and a returned favour, but getting material acknowledgment nonetheless. This might be an option going forward, because I know quite a few tradesmen and I could maybe ask them if I could help out. But, let’s be honest, I’m in my fifties and I’m unsure if I’d be an asset to them or a burden!
This is where I can feel people’s hackles beginning to rise. Why, FFS, don’t you go out and try working on a building site if you think you might like it? What do you have to lose? Because, FFS, this isn’t a “Please choose Option A or Option B” situation. This – I now understand – is cognitive dissonance! Out of which I’m hoping a creative and dynamic solution will eventually appear.