It’s the title of Buckminster Fuller’s book, written in 1970. Most folks know him as the guy who invented the geodesic dome, but he was far more: inventor, philosopher, author, designer, architect…futurist.
It’s a terrific book, by the way, though this isn’t a puff-piece about “Bucky,” though if I had to pick a superhero or a mentor, it’d probably be him. More about that later.
A Disclaimer: Having spent virtually all of my 65 years on this planet as…a guy, I really can’t speak for women on this particular topic at all. Not gonna try. Wouldn’t presume to, though I suspect in this singular category we just might be wired differently than women…not better or worse, just different. Here goes:
I Seem to be a Shark. If I had to translate Fuller’s sentence into my own world, it would be: I seem to be a shark, and by that I’m referring to a little-known fact about sharks: They must move forward or they die…literally. It has to do with the way sharks have to move water past their gills in order to breathe. Speaking for myself, and perhaps some others, this is also the way I need to function… have to function. If I’m not doing something, moving forward in some small way, I am stagnating, not breathing, dying slightly. Call it what you will, and I have a funny feeling I’m not alone on this.
What Gives? Did you ever look at some of the people on this planet who have supposedly “made it”, and wondered to yourself, “What gives? You’ve got more money than God (a ludicrous concept). You have your accomplishments, your family, five houses on three continents, why are you working your ass off??? Why don’t you just enjoy life, sit on a beach, travel, sip drinks with little umbrellas stuck in them, and chill-out?”
Being vs. Doing. The answer to that is slam-dunk easy. It’s not heaven for them. It just isn’t. Being is never the answer. Doing is. Put me on a sunny beach with all my food and drinks provided forever, and the only caveat is: I can’t do anything ever again, and I won’t take you up on it. I’d rather have a little cabin in the woods, snow drifting in through the gaps in the windows, and I’d have to go out and catch a squirrel to eat. BUT, I could write down a thought, or reinvent a new kind of toothpick or something…make things better. That is heaven for me, not vegetating…stagnating, simply sitting there doing nothing.
Retiring: Here’s my personal experience and advice on the concept of retiring: Don’t. At least not in the context in which it’s sold to you. Over the years I’ve had many friends come in, bright-eyed over the prospect that, very soon they can just go out on the back porch, toss a line in the water, pop-open a can of beer and do nothing.
To a man, (s’cuse the gender use. I’m not sure whether it’s the same with women) every one of my friends and/or relatives who has truly retired has regretted it, either overtly or covertly. And the scenario gets worse: A couple of buddies and one mentor simply died shortly after retiring. They just…stopped.
They lost their vitality. The spark and twinkle left their eyes and…they began grumbling because they were no longer doing anything. They were simply being, and that ain’t enough for a lot of us.
On several occasions, the grumbling subtly transitioned to hostility. On at least a half-dozen instances, old friends upon retiring would drop in, eyes slightly glazed, with the sentence, “Hey, isn’t it time you retired?” drifting out into the air. Huh? What’s going on? I don’t think I have to map that one out for you. For guys, it’s partially about competition and if you are moving forward, it makes me feel like I am moving backward…and I don’t like it.
The Rationale: I’m tired. I did my time... I get it. I get the concept. More likely, however, is you got tired doing the same thing over and over and over for 40-50 years. Sitting out on the stoop and watching the grass grow, however, isn’t the solution, it’s a perpetuation of the problem. Turn the page. It takes cajones to start something completely new when you’re tired…(or retired. Think about it: They both have the word tired in them), but you gotta try and you’ll be a lot happier for trying.
Helping… Let’s up the ante with our verbs now. There’s Being and there’s Doing. Let’s add the magical verb: Helping. Pamela and I used to do a lot of camping up on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona. Gorgeous stars up at 11,000 feet, we’d play John Denver, and drink Mateus with Sara Lee brownies as a chaser. But…we also learned an important axiom about camping…(LIFE): Camp, cook, eat, sleep, but always leave your campsite at least a tiny bit better than when you arrived. That’s life in a nutshell. Leave the planet a little bit better for your having traipsed around on it with your dirty feet. If you have a big ego…leave it a whole LOT better. It’s that simple…and that rewarding.
A Small Suggestion: Think bigger. “Aim for the stars,” as my wonderful mom used to say. “Even if you miss, you’ll still have shot pretty damn high.” If you were an exec., get in a program where you can help young adults get a leg up. Volunteer. Join a cause. Start a foundation. Invent a better walking stick…one that has GPS, a little radio, and a little vial of medicinal whiskey. But do something. Do it for others, and…do it for yourself as well. There’s nothing like the feeling of helping someone out. Even if you profess to be the supreme existentialist, helping others, improving things is the only real way to go.
Heaven: Having spent a solid 40+ years grappling with philosophical questions, I’ve heard scores of people, champing at the bit to get into heaven. They just can’t wait!!! They (we?) will apparently be spending all of eternity there. That’s like…FOREVER! Take a moment, however, to let that macerate inside your brain. What are we all supposed to be Doing in heaven? Beats the hell out of me, no pun intended. I get uptight at the thought of spending a Saturday afternoon with nothing to do. The thought of spending a whole eternity doing nothing but sitting on a cloud and existing… for me, that isn’t heaven, it just might be the opposite. Send me back. Demote me. Condemn me to go back to ole planet Earth to help out some people, invent something, write something…but give me something to do. Mere existence for me, no matter how wondrous, just doesn’t cut it. I’d rather just fade to black. I really and truly would.
P.S. Back to Buckminster Fuller: There’s just a whole lot to like and respect about this man. He was bravely and singly WAY ahead of his time, from pushing renewable energy, to his concept of Spaceship Earth, Futurism, and Synergy, to his many inventions.
He chose to “embark on an experiment to find what a single individual could do to contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.” Now, that is shooting high. And that is precisely where WE should be shooting right now. This is not a dress rehearsal. Time is passing. Get to it. Do something. Help someone. You will be incredibly glad you did.