On finding meaning and purpose

“Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it." – Stephen Hawking In a 2010 interview on ABC World News.
Recently a friend was telling me that since retiring, complex  furniture making projects had been filling his time. He was also hoping to reconnect with a former coworker who recently retired. He then asked what I was doing since leaving my job, and I replied that in my opinion I hadn’t 'left" anything. With a smile I said, “As far as I’m concerned, retirement has promoted me to the leisure class, so now I'm working on self improvement.” “I don’t do leisure,” he responded in a serious tone.

I believe in working in order to live, and I diligently did so for 43 years before retiring. However, even lowly work horses are not expected to die while in harness. The lucky ones spend their senior years grazing in a peaceful pasture. A life that is finally able to be relieved of punishing labor, urgent assignments or pressing deadlines is not empty, meaningless or purposeless.

Far above acquiring the means to support the necessities of life, climbing the ladder of success demands relinquishing our only non-renewable life resource: time. Seduced by the carrot of social approval and material excess, we sacrifice our short lives so we can squander what little of it remains on frivolously expensive pursuits. Far from gaining meaning and purpose, life is reduced to a funeral pyre fueled by a collection of shallow distractions and empty pleasures.
“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Two things people believe are important:
  • Material and social affluence. 
  • A long and healthy life.
One thing people tend to overlook: 
  • Character development.
While focusing almost exclusively on things outside our direct control, we neglect the only thing over which we have complete control – our character. Avoiding illness, acquiring  recognition, earning promotion, etc., are all examples of things outside our direct control. We can attempt to positively influence these things, but only our character lies under our direct purview. For instance, no one can make me lie, steal, cheat or launch into an angry rage. Those behaviors are examples of an underdeveloped  character. Character flaws are entirely within the individual's power to correct and are solely the individual's  responsibility.

But, few are willing to admit when their character needs some work.

People enviously compare themselves to others all the time. "She’s prettier and better dressed than me." "He’s more buff and better paid than me." "Their house is more impressive than ours." "Their children are smarter than ours." "Look at their car!" "Did you hear where they took their vacation?" The list is endless.

Rarely, if ever, will anyone enviously compare another’s character with their own. And yet, a  stellar character is undeniably superior, notable and invaluable. 

I disagree with Mr. Hawking. It's our character we should make our primary focus, not work. 
“Never give up on improving your character. Possessing an outstanding character gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.”

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