My 50 year old colleague, dissatisfied with his life, sits heavily down before me. “I’m not really happy,” he says. Stating the obvious.
“Well tell me,” I say, “what do you enjoy doing?”. He comes back to me straight-away: “Reading. I like to read books.”
“And how many books do you read, “ I ask, “in a year”.
A little less fast this time. “Four” he says, “or five.”
I do the maths for him. 30 more active years? Let’s be optimistic and say 40. Only time to read 200 more books. Before you die.
It’s a light-bulb, jaw-drop , wide-eye moment. He didn’t need to say a thing. And he quit his job the next day.
Hearing this made me think about me. Have I only got 200 books’ worth left in me? Which ones should I pick? How should I choose? I mean some really good books are so long. Or so boring. Or both. What about books that haven’t yet been written?
Unease was now accelerating towards mild panic. In my mind I was on my deathbed, a huge stack of books on the table beside me. A nurse (why? Am I in hospital? Am I sick? ) approaches. I see it is no angel of mercy but the Grim Reaper himself. He taps a wristwatch. Time to go. No! No! There is all this to read! Have pity.
I should have thought about this sooner, I rue, so much sooner. But such is the pointlessness of 20/20 hindsight.
Ok, so you might want to try and read a bit faster. Or devote just a little more time to it. Or have your next must-read volume lined up well in advance. But it doesn’t have to be about books. It could be visiting every football ground in the country. Or swimming the channel. Whatever floats your boat. And finding out what that is can be the biggest thing of all.
The moral, if there is one, of this tale is not to regret what you can’t change. Nor is it the need to prepare and plan to meet big, inevitable challenges. It is, surely, that the things in life with the biggest scare and greatest pleasure are not answers, but the questions that lead to them.
“Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers” said Voltaire. A moniker for a new year’s resolution if ever there was one.
Thanks to Katie Driver of The Thinking Alliance for her help in preparing this piece.