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The Danger of An Easy Life

Several years ago, Fortune magazine featured a special edition titled, “Retire Early and Rich.” You see this type of theme often in financial magazines. They know what sells magazines and are certainly aware that the number one goal of middle- and upper-class workers is early retirement.

Americans from all walks of life yearn for an easy, carefree life with no worries or stress. It’s a good life that we all dream to achieve. Often, we refer to this as the American Dream.

The late author and businessman, Bob Buford warns us to be careful with the idea that the object of work is to earn enough money so we can lead a life of leisure. He calls it, “living in leisure world,” the life you thought you always wanted.

Buford conveys a powerful story to make a point of how life in leisure world can be exceedingly dangerous.

Rogers Kirven was about to cash out his successful business. It would have given him enough money so that he would never have to work again for the rest of his life. Rogers had worked extremely hard to get to this enviable position, and he wanted to reward himself. He envisioned the life of his dreams: more time with his wife and family, never having to start each day with a trip to the office, and most of all, freedom.

The day was almost there when all he had to do was sign his name and he would have enough cash to do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life. For some reason, just before he was to close the deal, he decided to celebrate with two longtime buddies who had sold their companies a few years earlier. They met at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and very soon into the conversation, Rogers began to get nervous.

“The first thing they told me was that they had new wives,” Kirven said, “I’d known one of them for 15 years; the other for seven years. Both of them had cashed out to spend more time with their families!”

The conversation never got much beyond their toys and leisure activities, and the more they talked, the more terrified Rogers became. Instead of being excited about their lives, they seemed confused and disconnected, still wondering what to do with their lives. “There was a creeping sensation of ‘Uh oh! Something has happened to my friends,’” Kirven said.

On the way out of the restaurant, Rogers was still looking for confirmation from them that cashing out to leisure world was the best thing they had ever done. But, when he asked one of the guys that exact question, all he got in return was, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Rogers decided to track down every person he could find who, in search of a better life, had cashed in seeking relief from “first half pressures.” When last I talked to him, he had interviewed 36 men between the ages of 40 and 50, who had turned their businesses into at least $45 million. This certainly isn’t a statistically projectable sample, but I find it at the very least, an interesting and instructive window into the American Dream. How did it turn out?

“The first three guys I talked to were just like me,” Rogers told me. “They loved God, loved their families, and were in the same age bracket, 42-44. They all had a strategy. They wanted to spend more time with their families and develop their own souls.

“Within a year, all three were divorced. All three blew at least $1 million on new toys–bigger boat, bigger car, bigger plane. They all thought they had a solid game plan, but like Mike Tyson said about his boxing foes, ‘They all had a strategy until they got hit.’ Each of these guys stepped into a stream, and they didn’t realize the current was so strong until they got swept away.”

Of the 36 guys he interviewed, a remarkable 32 got divorced! All of them locked their targets on a new toy or affair, but experienced tremendous depression after “acquiring” each new thing. What seemed like paradise turned out to be just the opposite. These guys tried what most of us would say is the ideal arrangement. Money is no object. You don’t have to go to work. You can travel, play and buy all you want. And instead of waiting until these guys were too old to enjoy their freedom, they did it while they were quite young. Somehow, it just didn’t pan out the way they thought it would.

Kirven was lucky in that he swerved from leisure world at the last minute. He concluded work is healthier than you think.

God clearly made us to be productive, and therefore, we should not just sell our businesses or retire and go to leisure world, but find new work that adds meaning and purpose to our life. I heard someone say that we should be like Tarzan. He never let go of the vine he was swinging on until he had his hand firmly affixed on the next one.

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