People wasting away their lives…

Posted on February 5th, 2009 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Whenever I write a blog that makes judgments about how people choose to live, I am greeted by a paroxysm of indignant outbursts.

How dare I question the lifestyle decisions people have made?

Well, I dare to do so in just the same way as I make judgements about lots of matters: I don’t see any reason why lifestyle choices should be sacrosanct.

One of the underlying philosophies in my life has been that I believe that the paid work I undertake should contribute to the betterment of people. That does not mean that it should contribute in some massive manner, but it should – no matter how small in impact – be beneficial.

When I was a school teacher, I very much took this to heart. My love of teaching Geography – and its ability to provide a holistic intellectual framework for analysing our world – I consider to be very valuable. Therefore, I believed – and believe – that my teaching of that subject helped my students better understand their human and natural environments.

(In this I am of course not alone – in my experience, most teachers enter the profession with the implicit belief that they can help others see things in a different, better way.)

As a journalist I have also always had ‘education’ as my underlying theme.

I once talked to a magazine publisher who thought his magazine was about entertainment; I always thought it was about allowing readers to improve their understanding of the topics being covered – and so that’s how I wrote the articles that he bought and published.

Most of my AutoSpeed work falls into two categories – explaining how things work, or presenting the detail of an intellectual and practical challenge (eg a car modification).

In both cases, this provides a framework in which readers’ personal growth can occur. 

Another of my underlying philosophies about work is that I cannot ever see myself doing, year after year, a job I don’t love.

Of course, in anyone’s life, there may be periods where you need to work at a job you don’t like in order to gain the wherewithal to move to that more desired vocation. So when I was at college, at various times I delivered pamphlets on a bike, I worked as a builders’ labourer, and took photos of kids sitting on Father Christmas’s knee.

When AutoSpeed began, I worked in a crash repair shop, cleaning cars (see here.)

The third philosophy about work is that I do not expect to stay doing the same type of job all my life. I was a high school teacher for eight years, and have been working as a full-time technical journalist for about 14 years.

If my job at AutoSpeed finished tomorrow, I very much doubt I would continue as a modified car magazine writer: I would look at another, third career.

As with the pamphlet delivery and car detailing jobs, I might need to do something else while I worked towards that new career, but I would always be aiming for a new line of work.

I am 45 years old; that third career could well later segue into a fourth. I don’t know what it would be – the world is a very interesting place.

Remember: life is not a rehearsal. This is it!

Having espoused those work philosophies – to the betterment of people; love what you work at; expect to change careers multiple times – it’s perhaps not surprising that I find the behaviour of many people quite weird.

The most puzzling is the one where people my age start talking about retirement.

To me, retirement is what you do when you’re too old to work; when you’re literally getting close to dying of old age. To hear contemporaries talking about retirement just churns me up: what on earth are they thinking?

If you can’t wait to retire because you hate your job – well, get a new job.

If you can’t wait to retire because you’ve been doing the same thing for 30 years and you want new challenges – well, what’s that got to do with retiring?

If you reckon you’ve worked hard and now it’s time to relax, well, I think in fact you owe society rather more than that. If you’re still healthy and active and fit, why should you just recreate – no matter what taxes you’ve paid or money you have saved? (And won’t that philosophy rile some people!)

I don’t know if I am getting more radical as I get older, or the people my age that I know are just getting conservative at a faster rate.

A lot faster rate…

But I see so many of them that have lost the spirit of life, of taking risks and enjoying challenges. They are frightened of change, frightened of the risk of failure that is always associated with learning.

If their job is secure, they’re terrified of leaving it.

If their job is insecure, they’re terrified of it ending.

If they live in a polluted, expensive and congested city – they just endure it, like the apocryphal frog that never jumps out of the saucepan as the water gets hotter.

They actively create restrictions and ties and limitations – and then complain about those very aspects of their lives.

They don’t make things happen, instead things happen to them. They are the people at the bottom of the valley under the big, dangerously perched rock, waiting for it to fall and timidly tip-toeing around on the slope lest it do so. 

Their conversation is always peppered with reminiscences of what they did long ago – they talk about the past, not the exciting future.

Their passions – if they exist – are not about the things that really matter. The passions are often vicarious – rather than being participatory. (A good example is watching others play sport.)

Passions about personal growth, about learning new skills or knowledge, are completely missing.

I am hardly a high achiever or role model climbing mountains, or making millions, or devising new inventions, or hugely benefitting humankind.

In fact, very far from it.

But when I look around, I see many people – especially aged 40 onwards – who are living utterly dull lives, without challenge, excitement or passion, terrified of change and completely bereft of the desire to personally develop.

And worst of all, without the energy to try to change that situation.

“We’re happy,” they say – while looking far from it.

I think it’s the happiness of an animal stuck inside a tiny, self-constructed cage, peering around at the diminished horizons they can barely remember from their youth…

24 Responses to 'People wasting away their lives…'

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  1. James W said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Good post. I don’t really have much to comment on. It was just a good post.

  2. Glen said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    this post is good, it brings home the point of get out there and live, not just exist. what really saddens me is the same cage dwelling, rock monsters are the ones legislating our freedoms and lives away…sorta like if i cant enjoy life and take risks then no one can..

  3. Marty said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Well said. I think you’re spot on when you say there are too many people who say they are happy in their job….but in reality, they don’t have the balls to quit and and find a more enjoyable job!

  4. Robert U said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Retirement isn’t about chucking in your job, it’s about not having to spend your time to earn money. I find many “Retirees” go back to participating in the field they spent their working life because they did enjoy it and as a “Retiree” (not paid) they can step away from the unhappy parts whenever they want. I believe the emerging word for this is “Grey Consultants”

    Imagine you had to retire today, not because you wanted to but your body had had enough?say Alzheimers (not unheard of for a 40+ age), maybe you’ll realise those people talking about retirement were onto something, they were actually talking about looking after themselves and spouses when they couldn’t exert themselves to make money. At 45 J, can you look after yourself for the next 40+ years. When you reach 65 will you have enough to take care of the next 20+ years? Don’t for a start think the body will be willing and able to comply to your earning expectations!

    As for 40+ being dull! Most people rise to the level of their incompetence, maybe 40 is the time it takes for people to get their, but at some stage you are trying as hard as you can but just not producing any better results(bit like card mods, diminishing returns on power for dollar spent). If this means that Boring is supporting a family and dealing with the complexity of life, for many people this is hard work. Do they want t risk what they have and are working hard to hold? Well people are risk adverse, the older we get the less risk takers their are in our age bracket.(I know from mortality tables and that says something) I think Darwin had something to say about risk taking.

    When you watch your kids play sport and talk to the parents after, about the excitement they had, are you wasting your life? If your child becomes a national sports star and you go to watch are you being wasteful? Sport is a communal medium just like members of internet groups etc. Watching and supporting is not a waste it’s a communal motivation (they don’t have to be your Kid).

    Finally, it’s not a self constructed cage, it’s a cage we have made for each other, it’s the Autospeed subscription that stops us spending time in the garage, the subscription fee that stops us from getting the bus ticket to adventure.. So I want my garbage picked up every week and I really appreciate it, I hope the guy is happy to do it at 40+ and the rest of his life and while he watches sport and feels like some of the time life is good. I would expect two black eyes if I told my garbo he’s wasting his life (why do I want to take that risk). I wonder if you had the “passion” “motivation” “new challenge” to tell your friends they are wasting theirs?

  5. Ford Man said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Robert U: “it’s not a self constructed cage, it’s a cage we have made for each other, it’s the Autospeed subscription that stops us spending time in the garage”

    So Julian made the cage you now find yourself in? What about choosing to take responsibility for how you spend your time? Is there any other way of interpreting what you have written?

  6. Richard said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I tend to agree with you Julian. I was a rather conservative youngster….as I have aged (now 40+) I am surprised that my contemporaries become more conservative than me! I think families/responsibilities do that to people (especially men).

    I can suddenly understand why some big companies fail to move forward. They end up being run by older/more conservative managers. The very people who start to dislike change/risk taking! You could also extrapolate that to Governments couldn’t you 😉

  7. Paris said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Well said, very much agreed. There are no cages, and no limits to what we may achieve, except those we build for ourselves.

  8. Rob said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I wouldn’t mind retiring from my day job. If only someone else would pay the bills.

    Then I could spent more time on projects in the shed. Hey, I could even build a new bigger shed, just as Julian has recently done. Maybe then there would be time to finally start on that street rod, or maybe an electric commuter car, or both.

    I too am 45……

  9. Rob said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    ……… until then I’ll have to keep living vicariously through Autospeed articles.

  10. Peter Tawadros said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    So did you end up selling your half of the magazine, or did a salary begin to materialise?

  11. Julian Edgar said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 8:46 pm


  12. B Guy said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    “Whenever I write a blog that makes judgments about how people choose to live, I am greeted by a paroxysm of indignant outbursts.”

    …and you thrive on it!!! Just an observation…not a judgement 🙂

  13. Ben G said,

    on February 5th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    As someone qualified in a specific area of engineering I feel rather pigeon-holed in that I would not be able to get near my current income by moving into another field. The problem with that is the need to earn enough to be able to get a large enough mortgage to buy a house, then being stuck with a huge mortgage to pay off. So much for freedom and opportunities!

  14. Henri said,

    on February 6th, 2009 at 5:58 am

    Julian, PLAUDITS !! I’m 68, and thinking its time to start another company based on proprietary tech; however I know a relatively young person is need to run the biz. I ‘retired’ once back in ’89 and in retrospect, really goofed it up as I could have immigrated to AU and gone with a professional firm in Adelaide the day I arrived. Too late now. However, the currently unfolding crisis is offering huge opportunities to ‘them that’s prepared’ for tommorow’s needs & wants. Its just a matter of working and living responsibly somewhat like 1960, which in retrospect, I think was pretty damn good. Thanks for a terrific op-ed and confessional; quite inspiring to see your look at the future. Henri

  15. Paris said,

    on February 6th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Ben G my brother was recently in a position very similar to yours (different field of work but same details)- he chose to ditch the job, sell the house and buy a yacht. He’s now sailing around the South Pacific with his wife and two children under 6. He’s poorer, but he has no financial responsibilities and is undeniably happier.
    There are always choices.

  16. Paris said,

    on February 6th, 2009 at 10:40 am

    And he’s still contributing, by stopping occasionally to take teaching jobs on islands, they can make a small living and help out the locals.

  17. Martin M said,

    on February 6th, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Interesting and relevant post, good to see an honest and serious insight into what we face as modern humans…

    directly under the post google has served up an ad saying ‘find your filipina beauty today’ i didn’t even know i was supposed to be looking for one …. the world is a strange place!

  18. doctorpat said,

    on February 6th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    “As someone qualified in a specific area of engineering I feel rather pigeon-holed in that I would not be able to get near my current income by moving into another field.”

    As someone also qualified in a specific area of engineering I have found that this is not true. But I think I enjoy the engineering more than the alternatives.

  19. Boris said,

    on February 10th, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    At first I was wondering if this was a continuation of the posts about the obsessive craftsmen/model makers from earlier. Not quite!

    I have often wondered/marveled at people my age and younger spending hours “competing” on video games (relevant to A/S, driving games especially) rather than actually learning real-world balance, dynamics, and car control. Or going into their own garage and wrenching on something rather than creating a “virtual/pixel” race car that is unattainable.

    Julian – thanks for sharing some philosophical thoughts that are not (ostensibly) “car related” – though in many respects they are, in that they are “life related”, and for most of us, cars are a part of our lives.

  20. Scott Moore said,

    on February 11th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    You wrote:
    “How dare I question the lifestyle decisions people have made?”, “I don’t see any reason why lifestyle choices should be sacrosanct.”

    You can (and do) write about anything you like.

    Suggesting that others are crazy because they make different life choices certainly has plenty of opportunity to offend people. (I can expand upon this if you like)

    Some things might be considered sacrosanct and this is because many people would stop short of offending others. Do you not understand that?

    Different people find happiness in completely different ways. For me happiness is achieved by my relationships with friends and family. Continually “climbing the ladder” or moving to another city would take me away from the things in my life that make me happy.

    I’d get offended if you told me my lifestyle is less than it could be.

  21. Paris said,

    on February 11th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Even if it was? If you know that your lifestyle is great, then what do you care if some internet based motoring journalist ventures an opinion? I had some religious extremists at my door saturday morning telling me i’m living my life all wrong, and frankly, their opinion doesn’t mean anything to me.
    If you do care enough to be offended or angry, i’d wonder about that, myself.

  22. Scott Moore said,

    on February 11th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Well I guess there are levels of being offended. And I think it’s noteworthy that I’m not using emotionally evocative wording. But then I’m a remarkably stable person. 😉

    I really don’t care if some internet journalists ventures an opinion about me. My main point is that opinions about other’s lifestyles
    has potential to be offensive and that’s why many people stop short. Whether or not Julian chooses to is up to him.

  23. Rick M. said,

    on February 18th, 2009 at 7:09 am

    Last time I checked there were more crap careers than fantastic ones. I wasted most of my early teens and 20’s trying to be a professional racing car driver. Guess what! There’s a loooong line for that job. I never made it, but still race like I did… 😉

    If we all ‘wised up’ and left the big smoggy cities, we’d just make a new big smoggy city somewhere else. Probably somewhere that once was beautiful.

    Julian has successfully avoided the ‘traffic jam’ of life, but in my opinion he’s just found an alternative route. Some little road that only the locals know of. Good work Julian, but if you sit there and beep your horn waving, telling everyone to ‘follow me’ you’ll eventually just create another traffic jam…

  24. Julian Edgar said,

    on February 18th, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Rick that is an extarordinarily simplistic analysis, one that also ignores most of the thrust of the column. People can enjoy challenge and personal growth in a myriad of ways: the column is about people who choose to no longer embrace any challenges or growth, not just where they live.