Mike Wallace, who died at the age of 93, didn’t remember working for 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes! You can’t think of that show without thinking of Mike Wallace and how he asked the Ayatollah Khomeini if he was a lunatic, or how he made Barbra Streisand cry by telling her what her mother had said about her, or how he stood outside some office building waiting to embarrass an official with his incriminating questions. And yet, after he left the show at age 86, he never mentioned having worked on it. He obviously suffered from dementia, the way Ronald Reagan did the last years of his life. Reagan didn’t remember being president.
When I think about this, I realize that I’ve lived my life the right way. Not in the pursuit of great riches, but in trying to look at the years we’ve been given as years we should enjoy. Who needs the stress of competition, where the winner is the one with the biggest estate, the best toys, the houses in Europe, Asia, and South America? By the time you spend a lifetime of accumulation, will it have been worth it if, in the end, you can’t remember how you did it?
I enjoy playing poker, golf, paddle tennis, and going to the gym. Should I feel guilty when I’m sitting in the Jacuzzi because I’m not at my desk finishing another novel or article? I like to go to a health spa twice a year and lecture there. I could be hustling more work, but I prefer having that time to meet new people, to read, to watch the sky. My daughters are both professional people in health care professions and they work very hard. I’m proud that they have a good work ethic. But I also encourage them to take time off to appreciate the small things—to listen to good music, to play a sport or do yoga, to take a walk in the rain.
I know too many people who just don’t have the time. I say to my friends, “Let’s play golf next week,” and they look at me like I’m crazy. Lose a day of work? But when I talk to some of them over a glass of wine, I often hear how they regret how their children have grown up so fast, how they didn’t have much time for them. What can I say? I had a lot of time with my children when they were young. And I have time for them now if they visit. I’ll always have time for them, because in the end, what do you really have? Chris Wallace said his father only asked about his family, never about his fellow workers. We have friends and relatives who we are close with. Take advantage of that. It’s easy to forget what’s really important.
The best of all worlds is that you enjoy your work so much it doesn’t feel like work, and that you enjoy playing games or traveling or just rocking out with your friends and family. But don’t put one above the other. As Zorba told his boss, “To be alive is to drop your pants and look for trouble!” Change “trouble” to “fun”…..and have at it!