I have recently had a number of people tell me that they think I am “brave” for living my retirement years as an adventure, traveling the world and drinking in life as fast as I can. They relay to me dangers that they have heard about on the news, happening in places that they have never been before and they tell me that I need to pay more attention, worry more about “things” and be more cautious. They tell me of the latest sensational news from “somewhere” and apply it to everything beyond their own borders. I know they are well-meaning and only have my best interests at heart, but I don’t think they completely understand anything about my biggest fear. They don’t know what really scares me.
[pullquote]The fears that had been cynically fed to me by a manipulative media for years, ceased to matter when I didn’t have access to them.[/pullquote]
Before I began my retirement adventure I was a news junkie. I, like many of the people I knew at the time, would stay glued to the news for no other reason than to have our collective fears and biases confirmed. Even though some of the things that we saw had almost zero chance of significantly impacting our lives we would tune in because we liked being entertained, we liked being outraged and on some level, we liked having “enemies” and something to fear. There was something in us that kept drawing us to news items that made us enjoy feeling like we were on some sensational but undefined precipice and in danger of losing our way of life to foreign influences or some other irrational fear.
Then, in 2011 I sold everything, retired and moved to a remote beach in Mexico. I had no television, the Internet would barely work well enough to gather anything but news headlines and the newspapers that I saw would often be months old. All the news that I used to spend so much time urgently worrying about lost its importance. The fears that had been cynically fed to me by a manipulative media for years, ceased to matter when I didn’t have access to them.
The time on the beach allowed me to concentrate on things that I found important without distraction. I was able to think more clearly and see things that were lost to me in the 24-hour news cycle. Soon I came to realize that the things I had been taught to fear were an intentional distraction designed to keep me tuned in through the next commercial break. Someone more suspicious than me might say, that the fear and xenophobia we are sold by the media, is like a magician’s sleight of hand trick made up to distract us from real dangers to our way of life. Whatever the news was feeding me; I began to see how little of it was actually important, discount almost all of it, and move on to more substantial fears. My biggest fear, is a fear I can’t shake.
[pullquote]in the end we are all dead. The question is; how much life do we get out of the time that we have?[/pullquote]
I am not brave. I am terrified by having my precious time here on earth consumed by things that don’t matter, things beyond my control or things that don’t add value to my life. I am afraid that if I don’t keep my guard up I could fall back into an ordinary life, full of the drug of distraction when there is so much that is extraordinary and easily in reach. I fear wasting my most important asset – time—and missing things like the ancient temples of Bagan, the Nomad Festival in the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan, the sunrise at Angkor Wat or any of thousands of other wonders to see. I fear missing out on new friendships and experiencing new perspectives and cultures. More than hardship, discomfort or injury, my biggest fear is looking back with regret and realizing that I wasted my precious time on things that I am not passionate about. That I had been paralyzed into inaction by irrational worries.
Travel is my biggest passion, but I am sure you have things you are passionate about and you don’t want inconsequential things distracting you from them. Yes, it is entirely possible that something terrible may happen to me while I am out here loving life, but the inescapable truth for all of us is — no matter where or how we choose to live our lives — in the end, we are all dead. The question is; how much life do we get out of the precious and finite time that we have? My biggest fear is realizing I forgot to live.