Are you an ant or a grasshopper?

The ant and the grasshopper is a story by Aesop, (620–560 BC), a slave and story-teller who lived in Ancient Greece. Most Baby Boomers would be familiar with this story. It involves a colony of ants and a grasshopper. The ants are depicted as very industrious and constantly going about their work of collecting and storing food. The grasshopper just wants to jump and play all summer. He is usually seen with a fiddle and dancing. The grasshopper thinks the ants are foolish since they are working and slaving in the warm summer sun when they could be frolicking and enjoying the great weather. The ants are looking to the future. They are thinking about the cold winter that is only months away. The grasshopper’s only care is for today. He is thinking short-term.

Inevitably the winter comes. The grasshopper is ill prepared. He has stored no food nor can he find any on the cold frozen ground. He goes to the ants for food. They scorn his solicitations and advise him that next time (if he survives) instead of playing; he should be working and saving up. This story reminds me of the situation that many baby boomers now face with retirement benefits. There are many of us who have spent, spent, spent and never saved enough to have a decent retirement. Now when others are retiring we will need to continue to work. This may not be a big problem unless you do not have the health to continue to work.

I often wish I had been more like the ant when I was younger. I realized somewhat late in life the value of saving. Today, I try to balance more between saving and spending. It is really a question of balance. Perhaps the ants would enjoy life more and be more generous if they could take a few days off to play each summer. The grasshopper should learn to balance his desire for fun with some thought about his future. The Greeks got it right a few thousand years ago when they said: “All things in moderation.” We need to balance living for the short-term with living for the long-term. One saying I like is “spend your time as though you were going to die tomorrow, but spend your money as though you were going to live forever.” In other words, use time for the short-term but save your money for the long-term.” Savings is a form of deferring our standard of living for the future. Many people live only for today and spend as much as they can each day. When the future comes or a rainy day they have nothing to fall back on.

Do you balance the short-term with the long-term needs of life? Do you put money aside for a rainy day? Do you have a good financial plan? Are you thinking about saving for the future? If not, when do you plan to start? What keeps you from putting money away? Are you living too much for today?

How flexible are you?

“Gather you rosebuds while ye may”, by the English poet Robert Herrick. This is a little poem we are all familiar with from childhood or early school. It seems to be telling us that youth is the best time to catch a spouse or to accomplish some things and that if we wait too long, “we may forever tarry.” However, today, we see many people waiting longer to get married and many more couples choosing not to marry. Robert Herrick’s quote may be less germane and even seem antiquated to the present generation. The emphasis today is on speed and action. Delay and reflection is often seen as weakness rather then strength. We live in a society that appears to value youth and vitality more than maturity and wisdom. This is not to say that youth and speed cannot be assets.

What is the real value of youth? It seems to me, it is more than just a time to marry, get things done, find a spouse, take action or even see the world. Youth is a time of flexibility. It is a time when patterns have not been set in stone. It is a time to explore and look at options. Granted, you do not have to be young to do these things. However, as we age, many of us become more set in our ways. We have learned many likes and dislikes. Age can bring inflexibility or even ruts from habits that are well worn.

Data on vehicle accidents seem to point to the relative advantages and disadvantages of age and youth. Data for accidents show peaks for youth and the elderly and declines in between the two extremes of age. The young are brash and lack experience but have great reflexes while the elderly have the experience but lack the timing and reflexes.

Thus, youth is less about gathering rosebuds and more about experimentation and creativity. Can we keep these options open as we age? To some degree, the answer is yes. Much of creativity and flexibility is a state of mind (the body is a different issue).The key is to find ways to continue flexing your mind and spirit. Ask yourself today “In what areas, have I become settled and complacent?” When was the last time I tried something really new or went somewhere new? When was the last time I took a class or made a new friend? Can you still go out and find some rosebuds or have you given up the quest? What would it take for you to start something new this week or this month? What have you always wanted to do and never started? Why not start today or this week?

What have you forgot to remember to forget?

I forgot to remember to forget her,
I can’t seem to get her off my mind.
I thought I’d never miss her,
But I found out somehow
I think about her almost all the time. (Sung by Elvis Presley)

I always loved this song by Elvis, perhaps for the interesting twist to the lyrics. Have you ever not been able to forget something? I am sure we all have things we would like to forget. Sometimes, it seems we think about them all the time. Often, ironically, it is only time that helps us to forget them. However if we keep rehashing the thoughts in our mind, we never let time work. We are constantly refreshing the thoughts and allowing them to be present and timely. How then, do we get them out of our mind; if even time will not erase them? One thing I do is use a prayer to help push the unwanted ideas or thoughts out. As soon as the undesirable idea or issue arises, I repeat a meditation or prayer which replaces the idea. I have found this to work quite well. There are many different types of prayers in all religions. I have a book titled: “Prayers That Avail Much” by Germaine Copeland. This book has many prayers for all occasions and can be quite helpful. Try buying a prayer book in whatever faith you practice and see how prayer can help to keep your mind fresh and peaceful.

What thoughts do you have that you want to get out of your mind? How often do they reoccur? Say a prayer today and see if it helps? The thoughts may reoccur but the meditation or prayer will help you to forget.

Should you simplify your life?

Have you ever thought about the relationship between complexity and time? It seems like there is one. Did you ever hear of anyone who said they lived a simple life and did not have any time? As our lives become more complex, time seems to become shorter and shorter. As we add more and more stuff to our lives, they become more and more complex. I had three motorcycles and it was confusing to keep them all running and up to date with license, insurance, oil changes, tire pressure etc. When I sold one, I simplified my life and I had more time to enjoy the two bikes I had left.

How often do we think that we are adding to the enjoyment of our lives when we are really diminishing our lives? The things we own and buy begin to possess up. We buy things to make life easier and simpler and ironically the more things we own the more complex and hectic our lives become. Think of all the stuff that you own. You must maintain it, fix it, store it and find it. Half of the time, you probably cannot find what you want anyway. Have you ever gone out to buy something, simply because you cannot find the one you own? We have a very good vegetable peeler and I could not find it the other day. I went to the market and bought two cheap ones so I would always be able to find at least one. I thought I was getting a bargain as they were only $1.99 each. Well, as soon as I started to peel a carrot, I realized why they are so cheap. So now, I have two cheap poor quality peelers than I can find but can hardly use and one very good high quality peeler that is lost someplace in the kitchen drawers.

Is your life now more complex than you would like it to be? How many times have you thought that if your live was simpler, you might enjoy it more and have more time and fun to do what you really wanted to do? Would you like to return to the simpler times? What if you started today to simplify your life? What if each week, you did one act of simplification? Where could you start to simplify your life? What stuff could you get rid of this week? One act a week and at the end of the year, you will taken 52 steps to simplify your life. As they say, all journeys start with the first step. Take a step today to simplify your life.

Do you ever have a "dull" momemt?

Never a dull moment! Do you ever have one of those days that you honestly wished were dull? A day that is without any excitement, surprises or disasters! For some of us, life is so busy that we have no time to think and hardly time to breath. We go from one event to another. We manage one project after another. We have a series of never ending appointments to attend. We careen from one meeting to another, with just time to grab a coffee in between. We fuel our constant state of activity with high energy caffeinated drinks or other energizers. Coffee, donuts and some candies now come with extra dosages of caffeine to fuel our frenzied lifestyles. Calendars, Blackberries and I-Phones are all hot-sellers as we try to manage and schedule the many varied activities that comprise our daily life. We would pity an animal if it led the type of life that some of us lead. We laugh at the rat on the treadmill but many of us have become that rat.

Do you have the type of life that is never dull? What do you think your life would be like if you had a few more “dull” moments? Are you a junkie for action? Do you think time might slow down for you if you were not constantly going from one activity to another? Do you ever take some time for just meditating during the day? Every great spiritual tradition in the world notes the spiritual benefits of meditating. “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)

Try meditating for five minutes today. If you don’t know how to meditate, look it up and find a technique to try. Go to the following website for some ideas and methods on how to meditate: There are many different ways to meditate. Start off by meditating for only a few minutes each week. Gradually increase the time and number of days that you meditate. Your days will probably not become dull but you will gain a deeper appreciation of life.

What is your personal best?

Your personal best is a term that we usually hear applied to runners and athletes. Generally, it means the best score or time that you achieved at some athletic event or competition. I have a personal best for a ten k run that I did several years ago. I have never exceeded this time. I think when I was about 32 or 33. I was living in a small town in Wisconsin and married to my first wife Julia. She used to go to watch me in my events. As I have grown older, the details have receded from my grasp. However, I still remember the time: 38:48. It seems etched in my mind despite the other details about the race which grow further and further away. I don’t even remember where I placed in the standings. I have now been running for over 35 years but seldom do any races or events.

Surprisingly, I feel better and better as I continue my daily runs. I no longer care about “beating” my personal best. I am more satisfied to simply go out, run, and soak up the wonderful feelings I get from a more leisurely pace. I take the time to see the flowers and observe the animals, birds or whatever crosses my path. I focus more on the quality of my runs and less on how fast or how far I am going. Running does not seem like a chore or a task, but it is something I look forward to doing. If I were obsessed with beating my personal best or cranking out miles, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much or have been running as long as I have.

This raises a very interesting question. We live in a time of intense global competition, where our very lifestyles depend on increasing our productivity almost daily. Our mantra is: “Better, faster, cheaper” and our standard of living depends on accomplishing this mantra. The question then is: “Do we always have to be doing something better and better?” Where does our quality of life fit in? Is more or faster necessarily better? When is slower better? During my race track training with Keith Code from California Superbike School, Keith always told us that “you have to learn how to go slow before you can go fast.”

How can you improve your quality of life today by slowing something down or by taking it easier? Can you let go of some personal best that you have been obsessed with? How much longer will you live if you slow down some today?

Who are you taking for granted?

I just never had the time. A friend died in a motorcycle accident on a mountain road. It was a trip that Karen and I had almost gone on. He was a member of our motorcycle club and a really caring and loving guy. Karen cried on and off all day. I felt like crying myself but somehow I did not have the time to cry or could not find a place to go and cry by myself. Gary was not a best friend but he was someone I liked and admired very much. He always had time for you and I never heard him say anything mean or untoward about another person. If you ran into Gary some place, it was like meeting a long lost friend. He would greet you like the returning Prodigal Son and give you a big bear hug.

Gary was a big man with an even bigger heart. Nobody and I mean nobody disliked Gary. I had intended to see more of him or occasionally go out for coffee with him. He was easy to talk to and more than pleasant to be with. He was always positive and a very fun person. Of course, I never did any of these things with him. About the only time I ever saw Gary was at club rides and club meetings. I am a very BUSY person. I never spent enough time with him or told him how much I thought of him. I just never had the time. I thought he would be around longer. I really did mean to get to it. Who could have known his life would have ended so soon? I wonder if I will ever learn.

Who do you need to spend more time with? Who do you want to spend more time with? Who do you think will be around forever? What if they are not? What if your assumptions about how your friends and relatives will live were all wrong? Who would you want to see today? Maybe you should.

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