Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lessons from the Lotus Eater

When I was growing up, the story "The Lotus Eater - By W. Somerset Maugham (You can read the story here) fascinated me. It was of a person who wanted to lead a perfect happy life and the consequences of this approach to life. At that time, it struck a chord in me and I was not sure why ! Last week, I was talking to my friend about taking an early retirement - do nothing but live and enjoy life- I remember this story. So I went back to read it again and this line stuck in my mind...

"Wilson`s plan was all right. There was only one flaw in it and this, I suppose, he could not have foreseen. It had never occurred to him that after twenty-five years of complete happiness, in this quiet backwater, with nothing in the world to disturb his serenity, his character would gradually lose its strength. The will needs obstacles in order to exercise its power; when it is never thwarted, when no effort is needed to achieve one`s desires, because one has placed one`s desires only in the things that can be obtained by stretching out one`s hand, the will grows impotent. If you walk on a level all the time the muscles you need to climb a mountain will atrophy"

That is a powerful message both for people planning to retire as well as people working for decades in a "secure" job. When you retire, you need to make sure that you keep challenging yourself so that the mind and the brain are exercised at all times and prepared to handle any changes. On the other hand, people sticking to one company where they have a "secure" job also need to learn this message. No pressures but No growth. No stretching to get something desirable.  Finally where the change happens (Loss of job or other life events), these people find it difficult to get back to living.. Their will has atrophied and the ability to clamber back seems to be lost.

When my father was growing up, he took one job and then retired from it. But in this world of Globalization and Out Sourcing, it is not just enough to have a job and "coast" along. One needs to keep sharpening the skills and keep stretching the brain muscles so that you are ready for anything fate might through your way...

Are you a lotus eater? Do you have to change? 

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