Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time. Prior to my accident, career was my primary focus. With that taken away, how do I find meaning in my life? How do I feel like a useful and productive member of society? Not feeling useful and productive has been one of my most difficult struggles since my accident. I’m the closest I’ve been to feeling like I can slowly begin to find ways of being useful and productive, so I’m slowly taking steps to add volunteer opportunities to my life. I’ve finally accepted, after 15 years, I’ll never be able to return to my career.
Integrating back into society is really difficult. I’ve taken to saying I’m retired when asked what I do (to say I was forced into early retirement is a huge understatement). As long as I accept my life as it is today, and I do have a pretty nice life, I’m good. It’s really only when I fall back into thinking like a career woman (which continues to be a difficult mindset to let go of, even all these years later) that I feel my life is lacking.
I read the following story this morning in Insight Timer (my meditation app). It’s a good reminder:
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”
“And after that?” asked the Mexican.
“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the Mexican.
“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”