I never planned on it, but I found myself in the middle of a locker room counseling session.
Two men are shootin’ the breeze with one another—you know, small talk. They’re sporting tighty-whities with white towels sprawled around their sun-spotted shoulders—a classic look for old guys at the Y. I’ll call them Bill and Jim. I’m in a hideaway a few rows of lockers from them, and as far as they know, they’re the only people in the world. Men in this scenario typically exchange pleasantries or the occasional week-in-review in sports, but not today. No, this is different.
Bill asks the run-of-the-mill question: how’s life treating you?
Well, I didn’t think I’d be doing this sh*t anymore. This is ridiculous.
What does he mean? I came in about halfway through the discussion. For all I know, he could have been at the gym completing physical therapy. No one really enjoys PT, right?
I hear you on that one, Jim. I’m right there with ya. Still supporting my grown children. Barely paying the mortgage. I thought I’d be done with this by now. If I wasn’t working, we wouldn’t survive. But what choice do I have?
Aha! So it is their jobs that is the rub! Many are dissatisfied with their career, and like they say, the grind does not stop. All of this seems normal. But this felt like more than a complaint. Their jobs seem to be the source of all their stress. It seems like every issue they’re facing somehow stems from their careers.
At this point I’m confused, to say the least. I’m exercising in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the nation (I drive a few miles to get here). These men live in this neighborhood. They are the Joneses that everyone has been keeping up with. And they play the part well—working out in the waning-morning hours of a Tuesday just screams freedom, retirement, and joy. How can these men, who have played the role that society set out for them, be in such distress? And at their age?
As I continue to eavesdrop on the conversation, I realize it isn’t necessarily the work itself that’s the problem. It is because they have to work in order to keep their family afloat. It is about money. And they don’t have enough of it to sustain their lives. They have no options. They have no freedom. They’re utterly trapped. Much like someone confessing their deepest regrets to a priest, these men are being transparent with one another—perhaps more transparent than they’ve been in quite some time. This locker room must be one of the most sacred spaces they have. They’re being honest.
Overwhelmed by their stress, I mosey my way out of the inlet of lockers, right past them, and out the door. I can’t stop the thoughts running through my mind. By all accounts, these men have been working the last thirty-plus years, putting money away for retirement, while also hitting every life milestone along the way, right? No one at their age feels this way about work—or if they do, it’s not the people in this neighborhood.
This is the moment you realize that those who seem to have it all together don’t.
The more I reflect on it, more than anything in the world, I don’t want to be like these men. They’re cornered in their jobs like prisoners in solitary confinement. They’re trapped by their paycheck. I must avoid this fate. I so badly don’t want to be in that stage of life and to be like them.
Financial independence is the answer.