A recent mission trip to El Salvador got me thinking about how Americans spend our time in the rapid age of overachievement.
In many ways, the trip reminded me of my childhood and underscored how little has changed in the world. In fact, the school associated with Calvary El Sunzal, where we served, reminded me of my school in Colombia.
However, everytime I go on a mission trip, I’m shocked at how everything slows down. Our group of men from Riverside Church served for eight days: mixing cement for construction projects, interacting with the kids in their school, and connecting with people in conversations.
Only eight days, and it felt like such a long time compared to our rapid-paced lifestyle back in the States.
Heavy labor versus a high velocity pace
In many parts of the world, just to get water, you have to leave your house, hike down to the river, fill a 20-pound jug or two and hike all the way back up.
Meanwhile, we lay on the couch at home and ask someone to toss us a bottle of water.
In that sense, we have it easier. The physical labor required to do life can be so much greater in other parts of the world.
However, because everything takes longer for them, it slows them down. During our trip to El Salvador, the sun went down, and that was it. Everyone was in bed by eight o’clock.
Those of us visiting from the States were left wondering what to do.
Back home, the evening isn’t the end of the day. We’re just getting started. You get out of work at 5, and take the kids to soccer, make dinner, tackle a work project, and maybe get a little leisure time for yourself.
There’s not a lot of time to slow down. In other parts of the world, yes: there is a lack of resources, a greater need, and poverty. But people aren’t arguing in traffic. You’re worried about more pressing needs.
Somewhere in the early 80s, I think the American Dream evolved and accelerated our pace of life.
Retirement as a sudden halt
In El Salvador, like other parts of South America, I noticed that seniors were more active. They tend to work to a later age. They look younger.
Meanwhile, it seems that retiring out of our culture of urgency and hustle must come with a shock. In America, you work, and you work, and you work.
Then you turn 65, and everything comes grinding to a halt.
For most of your adult life, your body’s been running on adrenaline. All of a sudden, you’ve got nothing to do. You have nothing to distract your body from feeling everything it’s been through.
I’ve seen lots of seniors retire and then experience a rapid decline in health. Our culture doesn’t seem to offer a moderate pace for retirement.
Too often, retirement looks like a car that’s forced to stop after it’s been driving at 110 miles per hour — red-lining the throttle throughout the entire race.
It’s a jarring shock.
How long can we keep this up?
The pace of our society isn’t getting any slower. I’ve always been active, but I’m exhausted thinking about what some of these kids today are up against.
There is such a high need for overachievement. I’ve seen 7 year olds on travel teams, going through playoffs with a level of pressure that rivals LeBron James in the NBA Finals.
I can’t imagine this generation in their 50s and 60s. Do they continue to be active at that level? Do they crash? Are our human bodies conditioned for that level of stress that long?
When you read the Bible, you’ll notice that Jesus walked everywhere with his disciples — an estimated 3,000 miles during his three-year ministry. It took them a long time to get from place to place.
Meanwhile, you and I could drive to Orlando in three hours, hit Disney World, and come back the same day.
And we’d be exhausted.
I think there’s value in taking life at a slower pace. In my next blog, I’ll talk about how the urgent pace of our society affects how we take care of our seniors.
For now, what are your thoughts? What do you plan to do in your retirement years? What are some techniques you use to slow down and enjoy life, right now?