I got my first real job when I was fourteen, over forty-five years ago. I sold magazines door-to-door, driven to parts of the city I’d never heard of by a sales “manager” who wouldn’t tell us his last name. Door-to-door soliciting has got to be the most odious job a person can hold on the planet Earth, maybe in our whole solar system. It’s filled with vicious dogs, nasty men, mean-spirited women in pink nightgowns, and disgusting, arrogrant kids who love slamming the door in your face. You get the idea.

I actually started working when I was ten, fifty years ago (I’m not asking for violins to be played here). I know that all over the world many people have worked since their age of sentience. At least I did have a few years of ignorance and relative bliss in diapers and sandboxes.

By the age of ten, though, it was deemed that I should be gainfully employed. So I became a “delivery agent” for the Herald Examiner Newspaper. A paper boy with a paper route. Thirty-eight customers over a three mile radius from my home. I won’t go into the details of that idyllic job (rainy Sunday mornings with delivery bags so heavy I couldn’t pick up my bike, customers so cheap they hid from me when I knocked on their door on collection day, dogs so cruel they tore at my jeans and annihilated my ego…I guess those are details after all).

I continued through the decades on a kind of upward trend, I guess. Job after job, supplying more of my needs, providing for my family of a dear wife and two wonderful and deserving children. All the while, I had a goal to retire when I was fifty. Fortunately, my wife not only shared my goal, but she was willing to make the hourly, daily, monthly, yearly sacrifices to achive it. And achieve it we did.

Long before it was achieved, I had crafted a sentence…a single sentence…that guided my dreams of freedom, propelling me forward. The sentence described the Promised Land I hoped to reach. Here is that guiding sentence:

I long for the time to do a thing calmly and completely at a pace that offers the best chance of doing it well.

That sentence summed up all the things I wanted from my freedom. I’m sure it’s a goal for many of us. The time to do our best.

I have that time now. And I am grateful. And humble. And it doesn’t matter what the “thing” is that I do calmly and completely.

Click for detail

It could be planting a patch of English mint under the hose spigot and spending a graceful Monday morning doing it. It could be making the perfect egg salad sandwich at Tuesday’s lunch, or putting together a puzzle in the leisure of a Wednesday afternoon, or a thousand other things that I stumble upon as I continue to make my way through time and space.

Best of all, the thing I do could be doing nothing at all. And to be honest, I’m getting better at that every day.



10 Responses to The Guiding Sentence

  1. Dasher says:

    I grew up in California. So no matter how hard I try, deep down inside, I’m a westerner. I can’t do the buddha thing. I need activity: Goal posts to clear on a semi-regular basis to let me know that I am accomplishing something. Perhaps its just the “Generative” phase of my life, and I’ll settle down in retirement… I doubt it.

    I “retired” for 6 months in the middle of medical school. I got a plane ticket and backpacked all over South east asia on a shoe string. Thats what ended up happening. At first, the plan was to get to Thailand on a beach, and just finally relax. Do nothing except drink and snorkel. Meet people. That lasted about a week. Then I got bored and fast. I needed an agenda, at least a few destinations to check off of a list, anything to feel that at the end of the week, I could look back and be satisfied that I had accomplished at least a few things.

    What I realized is that my hobbies are mostly tools for procrastination, rather than pleasurable in and of themselves.

    I have always hated waking up, I don’t like going to bed either. It feels like admitting defeat, that the day has ended, and as soon as the eyes close, they open again to face another same-old day. Sunday, since childhood, always depressed me, since it means that Monday and work is just around the corner.

    My revised goal is now to find a job and build a life that I can look forward to rather than run from. I need ‘work’ in order to accomplish something and generate satisfaction. Work allows me to fill that Western need. I dont run from the work, I am running from dissatisfaction. I don’t think I will really be able to enjoy a vacation until I am working at something that satisfies me. Otherwise, every day off just feels like procrastination.
    Any advice, Sensei?

    • fz says:

      We’re the same…we both want to do a thing. My retirement is not without goals, I’m just trying internalize a frame of mind that makes it possible to calmly pursue them now that the “hurry-up” of the mercantile motive is not so important.

  2. Mary eliahu says:

    Funny you should write about leisure time as I am off work for the summer. Friends have asked ‘what will I do with all my time’ and I reply a number of things-including absolutely nothing and learning to do that without guilt.

  3. Lea says:

    Beautiful thought. And what a cool reality!

  4. Awesome. I long for that day as well.

  5. Qi says:

    So true and simply inspirational!

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