From the January/February Issue

Are you in the first half or the second half of life?
By Albert G. Marquis

It seems to me that life is divided in half. These halves are not measurable in years. Rather, the halves are divided by a change in attitude.

During the first half, we are struggling to better the lives of ourselves and our family. We strive for an education. Then we seek a good job. We work hard to achieve promotions. We marry and start a family. We struggle for the house of our dreams. We seek to make investments that will pay for all of our family's needs including our children's education. It takes grim determination to achieve these goals.

I went through my last two years of college and then three years of law school with a wife and two children, no money and no financial support from anyone. It seemed like the struggle would never end. It took every ounce of resolve that I had to finish my education and land a decent job.

Of course, that was only the beginning. Then I had to buy a house and work to the point where I could afford a new car--not to mention all of the toys that I wanted such as a boat, an airplane, a country club membership, etc.

One stark realization is that these assets do not necessarily bring about happiness. Sometimes the contrary proves to be the case. Every asset brings along with it (a) unanticipated expenses and (b) demands on the owner's time. It is easy for this "acquisition mode" to get out of hand. A person can, in effect, end up working for his assets. Every minute of every day can be spent either dealing with an asset's problems or working for the money to pay the asset's expenses. What fun is that?

When this realization sinks in--that more is not necessarily better--an individual is approaching halftime. In order to merge into the second half, he must work to decrease the number of expensive and time-consuming assets, he must minimize unnecessary expenses and he must work on simplifying things so that his life will truly become enjoyable.
Some people can never get out of the first half. Of course, if you live in a third world country and you struggle every day to put food on the table or to shelter your family, you have no choice. That is your fate.

But for those of us who are lucky enough to live in a prosperous society where everyone has an opportunity to be successful, the second half is attainable for all of us. Nevertheless, many people have worked so hard with such grim determination that they simply can't stop. No matter how big their house is, they want a bigger one. No matter how fancy their car is, they want a better one. No matter how many toys they have, they want more. They are on the materialistic treadmill, and they cannot get off. Few of these people are happy.

If you are unsure whether you are ready for the second half, ask yourself these questions: (1) If I had a million dollars, what would I buy? (2) If I could change anything in my life, what would I change?

If you are one of the fortunate few who can answer both of these questions in the negative, then you are a definitely a candidate for the second half. Accumulate some money for your savings account so you have cash to fall back on, and begin enjoying life. Spend time with your family. Travel and see the sights. Do things you've always wanted to do.
Many people rationalize, "I'm not ready for the second half. First I have to achieve ‘X'." But assuming that you have time to wait can be a fatal mistake. None of us knows when our life will take a drastic change for the worse. There seem to be trap doors everywhere: cancer, high blood pressure, heart problems, Parkinson's, MS, etc. None of us knows when one of those trap doors is going to open under our feet, changing our life forever.

Each of us has only one life to live. With every second that ticks away, that part of your life is in the past and gone forever. Each of us is allotted a quantity of time on this earth, but none of us knows how much time we have. One thing is for certain, we can't get any more. We can't save time and we can't borrow it from someone else.

In contrast to the people who can never emerge from the first half, some people merge into the second half at a very early age, living in contentment with who they are and what they have. These are the smartest people of all. These are the happiest people of all.

Many people view retirement as the second half. Maybe this is realistic for factory workers or other laborers who hate their jobs, but for professionals, there is no need to view retirement as a magical point in time. Who wants to sit around with nothing to do? It's far better to work at a leisurely pace, to keep our minds sharp and to enjoy helping other people. If an attorney enjoys his work, there's no reason to retire.

Everyone's goal, it seems to me, should be happiness. The key is to know when the struggle is over and when you have achieved what you want. Reduce stress. Be happy. Be content with what you have. You're in the second half, and you're entitled to enjoy yourself.

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