Life is Too Short


Is it time to be Selfish yet?

Some of those who have read my musings on the Yukon Arctic Ultra race may well have survived the book well enough to reach the end. Having achieved such a remarkable feat of human endurance, such readers would unavoidably have suffered through my essay on the theme of 'Contemplations in the Yukon'. If this includes you, I congratulate you for your efforts, and hope your journey through was a rip-roaring ride offering near orgasmic excitement and rewards. For those who have thus far led more sheltered lives, by all means pull thy lazy finger out, buy the book and make a start on it. You are not going to live forever and time is a-wasting.

The executive summary of that splendid essay is - from egg to end - we humans are expected to live our lives as deemed appropriate by our national society (of birth or of later adoption). We are enrolled into a programme of education that sees us from our earlier years through to the end of teenagehood or early twenties. Aside from some level of literacy, mathematics and science (hopefully of an appreciable level higher than what we might otherwise have established from parents, television documentaries and Google), what have we achieved? All we really have to show for our time are phenomenal debts and two fewer decades to live.

Some might say that having 'played the game' and ended up with such debts, we feel indebted to our society to continue being a worthy product and to pay such money back. We acquire student debts, and we obtain a mortgage for a home and many of us spend vast sums on transport, clothing and various means to entertain our tiresome and dreary lives. These are incredible costs and they exist so we can be in a position to work.

Thus, we dedicate our early years to investing in an ability to work, and almost all the remainder of our lives following that paying off the costs of being in a position to work. We might tell ourselves we work to keep a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but as our societies have determined the costs of that roof and the food, and the value of our work, we can easily see that they have matched these to ensure we remain 'productive' members of society from our first few years after birth to our frail old age. The raw ingredients for everything we own comes from a planet that is about 4.5 billion years old, so who really decides who can own what bit of it for how long, and what the value of its raw materials really is? Who has the right to determine what an hour of my time is really worth?

If we genuinely consider that, despite all this, we are truly alive in this world, we have been taken for a ride, and hardly an exciting ride at that. How many weeks off work do we receive out of 52? Of those, how much time is spent 'living' and how much is really just recovery from a relentless workload? How many people finish work each day and feel ready and energetic to make the most of their time before sleeping? How many of us actually spend our out-of-work time mostly just indulging ourselves in much-needed down-time and recovery? Even worse, how many of us are engaged in a type of work that keeps us distracted, or 'satisfied', at best, but is not something we genuinely find enjoyable and deeply rewarding? Come on people, your time is your own, and when it is over that is it - there is no "Congratulations on passing Level One: You may now proceed to Level Two". This is it, and how much has already been lost?

There are 168 hours in a week. How many do you spend asleep, how many at work, travelling to work and how many eating? How much 'you' time do you actually have, when you are free to do the things you want to do? How much time do you spend actually feeling 'alive', whether by yourself or with the people you want to be with? 168 hours in a week; 52 weeks in a year; 75 years in an average lifetime (and what guarantee have you of reaching that?). How much time has already been lost? How much should you write-off as assumed and predicted frailty? How much time do you have left to be Alive? What years of your life do you consider to be those in which you are most able to fully experience and enjoy this world? Your teens, twenties and thirties? How old are you now? How many of your friends and family have been lost already to age, disease or accident? The sands of time will not wait for you; they are being lost to the past with every passing moment. Apathy is for those who consider their lives not worthy of anything better. There IS more to life than this.

What I love about the Yukon is not simply the land - it is her people. It is a place where you walk along the streets the majority of people will acknowledge you, smile and say a friendly 'hello'. It is not a place where people are consumed by a need to distance themselves from others, although in the most part this is because the majority of people are there for the same reasons - not to just work and develop a career for themselves, but to actually live. It is little wonder I have heard Yukoners describe their territory as the land of misfit toys. This is the country of Robert Service's men who don't fit in, after all.

Importantly, what makes the Yukoners stand out is not where they live, although it is certainly a beautiful place, but their attitude. They are not interested in careers in the sense most are, nor are they obsessed with homes, fashion or the other empty materialisms of most denizens of this planet. Employers in the Yukon understand and respect this, and so many employers there are sympathetic and support their staff who only want to work a few days a week, or who prefer seasonal work only, who want to take a break for a month or so, or even a year. When a visitor comes along with no money, it is fairly easy to make friends, and not unusual to couch-surf for a year whilst looking for something longer-term. Many Yukoners started off this way.

What is perhaps most noticeable, is that when people in the Yukon talk of leaving their jobs, of having little or no money, or leaving everything behind, this is seen as a positive step, whereas in most parts of the world it would be considered a sign of laziness or a lack of ambition. Nothing could be further from the truth! People take these brave steps because they feel a need to reassess what is truly valuable in their lives, and materialism and a consumer-motivated culture is simply not it. It is astonishing that in most of the world a story could be met with considerable negativity, whereas in a very few that same story would be celebrated.

The solution is not for everyone sympathetic to this rant to up sticks and move to Canada. That misses the point. It might be helpful to experience the Yukon first-hand, but the issue is how more of the world can learn lessons from how things are done in the Yukon. For most of us, we need to prioritise our feelings and our very lives above the opinions of others. We need to reassess. How do we stop this mad roller-coaster with its deluded controller, so we can get ourselves off the thing and begin journeys of our own?

What are our expenses? What would happen if we reduced our hours worked each week, to have more days or half days to ourselves and those we actually wanted to spend time with? What do we need to do so as to live the life we actually want for ourselves? Can we even achieve this in our own countries? What steps would get us to where we want to be? As Nietzsche would tell us, "…no price is too high for the price of owning oneself." Your future is yours and yours alone. You decide how you will spend it, whether that means resignation to the life you find familiar and 'easy' - however unrewarding - or the life you might dream for yourself.

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."

- T.E. Lawrence

There is no Level Two: this is it.




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