When I was still a couple of years away from taking early retirement, I suddenly found myself under a heap of life’s rubble. A wall fell on me. A wall, not made of bricks, but a great teetering pile of ‘stuff’. I had watched it grow, out the corner of my eye, yet chose to ignore it. Even when it became a struggle to keep ahead of its encroaching shadow, I felt sure that when it did finally fall, it would be in such a way that my shoulders would feel easier, the spring would return to my step and an invigorating breeze would sweep any lingering dust to settle somewhere far away.
Instead, the wall fell silently, gracefully and without any obvious trigger, until it came to rest all around me. The world was a darker place, it was difficult to breathe and all communication with the outside world had been dulled.
Fortunately for me, even though I couldn't free myself from the rubble entirely, I discovered it was possible to drag that which clung to me, all the way to the doctor’s consultation room.
The GP I saw was a New Zealander, on secondment to my practice. She proved to be exceptionally skilful in rescuing people from rubble, and after a few weeks, she signed me fit enough to return to work. During our final meeting, things took a philosophical turn. After a long chat about how to avoid unstable walls, and the health benefits of fresh fruit and veg, she turned to me and said, “You know, when my time’s up, I want to have a short list in my hand. The shortest list ever.” “Really?” I asked. “Too right,” she said, “I’m talking about the list of things I’ll be wishing I’d done.”
I suspect that, generally, it wouldn’t be regarded as ‘sensible’ to have that little snippet at the top of your list of considerations when early retirement is on offer. But the doc’s words stuck with me, and I’m glad they did.
Today, I read this, and number two on the list of regrets for those who reach the end of the road is, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” It’s difficult to see how working long and hard is going to be avoidable for much of the population, for many, many years. I count myself extremely lucky that the wall fell on me when it did.