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Exuberant Living: Adventure vs. Security

What are you working toward? What is your motivation to obey the alarm clock and go through your morning routine in preparation to leave the house? Why do you go to work?

Obviously, we all need to earn money to pay the bills. But if your work is only the penance you pay so you can meet your obligations, I doubt you’re happy there. And if you’re not happy at work, you’re not going to be happy in much of your life.

So, why do you do it?

Ultimately we work – and identify with the work we do – because we want security. We don’t want to worry that the bank is going to reclaim the car, that we’re going to lose the house, or that our children might go to bed hungry.

We do this all our lives, because we want to be sure that when we can no longer work we will still be able to count on having the resources necessary to be secure in those areas. I get that.

Security is the second level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right above physiological needs. In other words, after we meet our immediate requirement for food and someplace to stay out of the rain, our very next concern as humans is security.

In earlier days, that meant finding a cave deep enough that a T-Rex couldn’t cram his little arms into it and snatch us out. Our ancestors wanted to know they could restart their fire if rain drenched it and they wanted to have enough kids that some would survive to carry on the tribe.

Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower understood security. He helped secure the world from the scourge of Nazi Germany. Even after that was done, though, he said, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking. . .is freedom.”

Jon Krakauer, who writes real life adventure books, including Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, suggests that security is the last thing you should seek if you want to fully experience and enjoy your life.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future,” Krakauer wrote in Into the Wild. “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

“If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

A recipe for adventure maybe, but not a formula that most of us can follow.

I’m still working because I love to work and I love the work I do. I planned ahead so I could retire eventually with the typical security that a well-planned retirement will provide. Because I love what I do, work is not a burden, but my joy and my identity. I’ve not decided for sure, but I may be among the 10 percent of senior adults (did I just write “senior adults” in connection with my name?) who do not plan to retire at all.

What is security in this age, in this life?

I define security as your ability to live in the world confident that you’ve done everything necessary to assure that you can meet and provide for any need that arises in your family as long as you live.

Unlike Eisenhower’s observation above, in this kind of security comes freedom. What freedom do you really have if the specter of poverty or of living out your final years coughing and sleepless in a single room dangles over your head?

Krakauer’s observation assumes there is no joy in working to provide that kind of security for your family. When your family is secure, you are free – free to explore, to risk, to retire, to try something new, to launch an adventure.

This kind of freedom does not come without planning.

NEXT MONTH: Specific Steps to Secure Security

This column a series of lessons learned and insights about how to balance the need for security with the ability to live exuberant lives with confidence and freedom.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

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