Longevity & Purpose

I’m stealing this video from Matthew Apsokardu’s Ikigai martial arts blog because I think it’s very much worth watching. It discusses human longevity, and the things that lead to longevity in some of the longest-living groups in the world.

Matt has a lot of good discussion of the video, and he ties the video to martial arts. Something that really struck me, though, was the video’s mentions of purpose or, as the Okinawans call it, ikigai. Ikigai is something you live for, your reason to wake up every morning. The presenter, Dan Buettner, says the two most dangerous years of our lives are the first year and the year we retire. That means infant mortality and losing our sense of purpose. The Okinawans, it turns out, don’t even have a word for retirement.

I’ve never understood retirement. I’ve been told many times I need to be ready to retire at 55, or at least by 65. Okay, but then what? If I retire at 55 and my life expectancy is 75, that’s 20 years of sitting with my thumb in my ass. Sure, I’m supposed to have enough money to take a couple of trips a year, or go golfing or something when I feel like it, but is that going to fill up an entire year? Or as much time as a day job currently does? Nope.

Now, that doesn’t mean I want to be at this same day job at that point. My goal is to move on from this job, preferably through writing, before I have to retire from it. If the Okinawan fisherman is content to fish for his family three times a week at age 100, then more power to him. He’s happy to do it, he enjoys it. It gives him purpose. The way I feel right now, I’d love to be writing and practicing karate (and playing with grandkids or great-grandkids) at age 85. I’d love to go out working at my desk, like Robert B. Parker did. Or in my sleep after a good workout (or after sex, as Buettner says a number of Okinawans do).

“Retirement homes” scare the shit out of me. Sure, sometimes disease and other misfortunes result in people stranded there, but it just freaks me out seeing people sitting in chairs, vacantly staring at the walls or windows. Some of them simply stopped moving, and their bodies just didn’t know they’d quit. What’s their ikigai, their purpose? Salisbury steak day in the cafeteria? An over-enthusiastic intern dragging them through an activity they have no interest in?

I’ll pass, thanks.

This is just another reminder I need to keep working. I’m fortunate my creativity is something that can (potentially) fund this kind of dream. Even if it couldn’t, though, I would like to think I’ll find another passion to keep me alive when I finally get fed up and walk away from this job, even if it means learning something new. (I’m also a big believer that people should never stop learning, but that’s a whole separate blog post.) Maybe I’ll learn to build and repair motorcycles, or turn my writing sideline to editing and publishing. Maybe I’ll finally learn to play an instrument and songwriting will take over. Who knows? Whatever I choose to call retirement is a long way in the future.

My present is my ikigai.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Matt says:

    Nice take on the video! This definitely has implications for anyone who watches it, not just the martial arts types. I’ve had similar worries about retirement, and often think of martial arts as a long term solution to that loss of purpose that seems to pervade old folks when they are no longer ‘needed’ at their chosen vocation.

    • Mike says:

      It’s a good find, Matt. I’m glad you posted it. I keep meaning to go watch some of the TED videos but rarely make the time. (And I’ve even got the free TED app on my iPod touch. D’oh.)

      The other part of my problem is eating right. I don’t eat near enough fruits & veggies.