This past week we decided to take the #81 bus up to Eze from Nice and hike one of the trails close by. We chose a marked trail that would take us up to the Fort de La Revere (and goes by the same name), which is about a 4 km hike and would takes us a couple of hours. It’s a loop that leaves Eze, heads north and upwards, and there returns back down to Eze village. And all along the way there are amazing views looking back at the Cote d’Azur coastline. On this particular day the air was clear and you could see far down the coast towards Antibes and Cannes.
One we had returned to Eze, Flo had the energy for more so we decided to walk the trail down from Eze Village to “Eze Sur-le-Mer” on the coast. The trail is called Le Sentier de Nietzsche as Nietzsche had spent some in Eze and supposedly he enjoyed walking the trail. At the beginning is a sign signifying this and a quote from his poem From the Heights.
MIDDAY of Life! Oh, season of delight!
My summer’s park!
Uneaseful joy to look, to lurk, to hark–
I peer for friends, am ready day and night,–
Where linger ye, my friends? The time is right!
Which got me thinking, as we began our descent, that we are actually in the “midday of our lives” and having recently entered our retirement years, would this be our “season of delight”?
We recently sold our business, something together we had worked at for more than 25 years. They were challenging but rewarding years, some of the best years of our lives (so far!) And although it hadn’t demanded a lot from us over the past five years, it did provide an outlet, something we needed to take care of – it provided a “challenge.”
The fact it was now sold, however, meant we could no longer rely on our business to provide us with the goals and challenges we seem, as human beings, to need. For much of our lives we have to get up early 5-6 days of the week, put in about eight hours a day, and during this time we are provided with structure, goals and challenges. But what happens when work ends and retirement begins? Where are the goals and challenges to come from? Does this mean I have to create that “structure” by myself, on my own?
But before answering that, let’s considering why exactly we need to be challenged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor and author of the popular 1990 book Flow, (which is one of my all-time favorites) explains, “If a person sets out to achieve a difficult enough goal, from which all other goals logically follow, and if he or she invests all energy in developing skills to reach that goal, then actions and feelings will be in harmony, and the separate parts of life will fit together— and each activity will “make sense” in the present, as well as in view of the past and of the future. In such a way, it is possible to give meaning to one’s entire life.”
In short, goals give life meaning, and work is a wonderful structure for providing exactly that. When we are at work we’re pushed to engage in activities we find satisfying. We’re happiest when we’re absorbed in a difficult task, a task that has clear goals and that challenges us not only to exercise our talents but to stretch them. At the same time we become so immersed in the flow of our work that we tune out distractions and transcend the anxieties and worries that plague our everyday lives. Our attention, which too often can wander, becomes fixed on what we’re doing. Work then provides an outlet, a means of dealing with the pressures of day-to-day life, although most of us we’d think it was the other way around, that it was work that was demanding and pressured, that we actually need more leisure time.
Mihaly performed an interesting study where he asks people to wear a beeper which beeped every hour as a reminder for them to make a note of how they were feeling at that moment. The results were tracked and what they found was that people are actually happier when they are at work than they are during their leisure time! Too often they were bored during their free time. And yet when asked, they said they didn’t like being at work, would rather be enjoying time off. Mihaly referred to this phenomenon as “the paradox of work.” When they were on the job, they expressed a strong desire to be off the job, and when they were off the job, the last thing they wanted was to go back to work.
So again, what happens then, when work ends and there’s now just endless days of leisure? What will provide the goals and challenges we seem to need to give life meaning and structure? That became my train of thought and concern as we made our way down to the shores of the Mediterranean. This hike was certainly providing the challenge I needed for today, but what will it be tomorrow?