Before I made the decision to retire a few years ago, I began to pay more attention to the drumbeat of business articles warning baby boomers about the savings deficit that loomed in their future. The question the financial experts always posed was: Will you have enough when you retire?
By “enough,” they meant enough money to maintain one’s current, presumably comfortable, lifestyle, especially since baby boomers are told that we will live longer than any generation before us.
But the word “enough” also got me thinking about how we define that concept, and whether—in the competitive, status-conscious society we live in—we can ever be satisfied with what we have or achieve. The goal for many is always to strive for more. Success seems measured by the ability to outstrip others.
I know that drive all too well. As a Girl Scout, I pushed myself to sell more cookies than anyone else in my group—not to bring in money for the team, but simply to outperform the other girls. In high school, I remember shopping trips with certain friends devoted to buying the latest pair of Pappagallo shoes before others in our crowd did. I never liked Pappagallos, but it didn’t matter: I was in it for the race, not the shoes. As a parent, during high-school fundraising telethons, I tried to outdo other parents in the amount of money raised. The fundraiser was a good cause, but in my mind, it was also a contest.
The distinction between getting more and having enough crystallized for me a few months ago when I was cleaning out an overstuffed file cabinet. Stuck in the back was a 1992 Wall Street Journal interview with John Updike, in which the novelist railed against what he considered a spiritual emptiness at the core of American life. The number of “already very rich men who were willing to commit crimes during the 1980s to get even richer proved there was no enough,” he said. “Maybe that’s one of the words Americans have a very hard time learning: the word ‘enough.’ ”
It has taken me most of a lifetime, but I may finally have learned the lesson Updike was talking about. Instead of driving for “more,” I find myself accepting, with a sense of relief, that I have “enough.” Age is one obvious reason. When I was younger, I tried to be more flexible in exercise class than others nearby, or lift heavier weights…