People frequently say, “You only get one life!” When you are young, this advice is often taken as permission to do something free-spirited and dangerous because you may never get the opportunity again. When you are middle-aged, it can be an invitation to reflect on your life – the time that has gone by and the time still to come.
An interesting crossroads occurs in middle-age. You realize more than ever that you must get your financial house in order. Retirement is no longer a destination so far down the road you can’t see it; instead it is within view, and you know you must intensify your savings. On the other hand, middle-age can find you reflecting on your life, your job, your family. You may be burned out from your work but feel that you have to stay because you can’t give up the money. You may think that someday you will be able to transition from the job with the lucrative salary to something you truly feel passionate about.
However, for many people that transition never occurs. They stay rooted in jobs they no longer enjoy or that require too many hours away from home and family to continue to make more money and secure their future.
Mike Wallace, one of the mainstays of 60 Minutes, recently passed away at the age of 93. His son, Chris Wallace, said before his father’s death:
“He still recognizes me and knows who I am, but he’s uneven. The interesting thing is, he never mentions 60 Minutes. It’s as if it didn’t exist. It’s as if that part of his memory is completely gone. The only thing he really talks about is family – me, my kids, my grandkids, his great-grandchildren. There’s a lesson there. This is a man who had a fabulous career and for who work always came first. Now he can’t even remember it.” (The New York Times)
You only get one life.
While I am by no means advocating financial irresponsibility, I am encouraging you to look at your priorities. What is important to you? If it is your career, that is fine. Continue to work hard and enjoy your work and the legacy you are leaving. Mike Wallace certainly leaves an impressive legacy.
However, if your priorities are family and friends, does your current work situation reflect that? If you want to be there to raise your kids, but instead you are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, your life is not aligned with your priorities. Are there changes you can make? Can you downsize your lifestyle so that you can take a job that requires fewer working hours? Yes, you may take a pay cut, but is that cut in pay worth it to make your priorities your priorities?
You only get one life. Be wise. Don’t wait too long to make changes. Leaving a secure job that pays well is difficult. It is scary. But once you have made the switch, I don’t think you will regret it.
Last year I quit a stable, secure teaching job. The problem was that I didn’t really enjoy it anymore, and the work load kept me from spending as much time with my kids as I would like. The day I turned in my resignation, I was terrified. Now, a year later, I can see that it was the smartest decision I could have made. I now do work that I enjoy from home, and I have plenty of time with my kids. Our lifestyle has become simpler, but that too is more aligned with our priorities. Our retirement fund may not be as large as it would have been had I stayed at the job, but we are putting away enough for a comfortable retirement, and I hope that changing my lifestyle, while scary, will leave me with fewer regrets when my one life is done.