William Irvine’s The Guide To The Good Life is an attempt to reinvent Stoicism for the 21st Century. Irvine argues that everyone should have a philosophy of life that includes specific strategies for achieving their primary objective(s) in life. Absent an intentional plan, at the end of life, people will regret that they have “mislived”.
Put differently, one should live intentionally, not spontaneously. He acknowledges few people do so mostly because of the “endless stream of distractions” that keeps them from clarifying what’s most important. And he made that point before social media and streaming television both exploded.
If pressed though, I’m guessing Irvine would acknowledge rewarding times in his life when he acted spontaneously, when he said yes to an unexpected invitation or adventure.
I wonder if the answer to the dilemma of just how intentional to be in planning one’s life lies in the tides, meaning there should be some sort of natural ebb and flow between intentionality and spontaneity.
The older other people and I get, the more set we become in our daily routines. Losing some of our youthful spontaneity, we should carefully consider the improvisors’ dictum of always saying YES. Okay, “always” is unrealistic, but what about “more often”?
A LOT of my acquaintances and friends have died lately, almost all of them from cancer, a scourge we may be sleeping on amidst the endemic. Being my age, their deaths have got me thinking about my own.
Despite not having an explicit philosophy of life, if I die sometime soon, and have time to reflect on my six decades*, I wouldn’t at all think I had mislived. Quite the opposite. I would be grateful for all the meaningful friendships; all the socially redeeming work; and all the fond memories of things including athletics, traveling, and especially family.
Lately, I’ve felt a deep and profound sense of contentment for most everything including my new and improved health, our home, and the natural environment in which it sits.
That very spiritual sense of contentment doesn’t have to conspire against saying YES to new invitations and adventures does it? To continual growth?
Presently, I’m most interested in personal growth. Professionally there’s nothing I feel a need to accomplish. My plan is to spend my remaining days learning to listen more patiently and empathetically to others—whether the Good Wife, my daughters, you, my students, everyone. That could easily take several more decades. Guess I should keep exercising and eating healthily.
*meaning not on my bike :)