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Avoiding the Bankruptcy of Life

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
“I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.
The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? ”
― Sterling Hayden, Wanderer

Hayden chose the opposite of a comfortable routine, breaking from a lucrative Hollywood career and a failed marriage, he took his four kids and sailed to the South Pacific. Some might demonize this act of defiance as irresponsible. For why would someone give up “everything” and let it all ride on one spin of the roulette wheel? The question, really, is about what you’re risking. Status and reputation? Or a steady paycheck to cover the mortgage?

I know this debate. I have it often with others. Life is full of compromise and the occasional break from the routine. Isn’t it? But should it be all or nothing? Is there a place for measured discipline to live side-by-side with an adventurous spirit? Is there a place for the routine traverse sprinkled with small delights, or must we choose?

I wander about in graveyards now and then. This isn’t a morbid fascination with death, but a visit with those who once lived. Two of my favorite graveyards are both named Sleepy Hollow. The one in Concord, Massachusetts has some of the great transcendentalist writers in history interred there—Thoreau and Emerson. The one in Sleepy Holly, New York has Washington Irving and a bunch of formerly rich people interred there. Most of the rich people build huge monuments for themselves, most of the creative types have modest headstones. It’s like a shout from the grave: “See? I once mattered!” The thing is, they’re all part of the infinity now. How they lived is gone, but for their legacy. And so it will be for you and me.

Somewhere between the routine traverse of life and the bold adventure of throwing it all away in favor of a life of challenges lies a happy medium. To be present but to be bold. To make choices that stretch your limits of comfort and bend your routine. To feel the urgency of now, and live while there’s still time, but to do it in a way that keeps you present for those who need you the most. And that’s the trick—isn’t it?

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  1. Bigger house, fancier cars – what for? False gratification and limited enjoyment. Money doesn’t buy you time nor true adventure. It’s a trap that people are afraid to let go. Certainty of a return flight back in a week or two doesn’t give true thrill of adventure. Leaving it open-ended does. Similar to yesterday’s post, best also to cull the money need, so you are free to happily spend it only on freedom and adventures, not a return flight to get more money. Sell the giant house and give away the “stuff”. Financial ruin is not the goal, but less liability removes that concern when you set out.

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