I've had an existential crisis

— Existential anxiety about pensions and the joy of compost heaps

Existential anxiety about pensions and the joy of compost heaps

By Rob Husband

Existential anxiety about pensions and the joy of compost heaps – I’ve had an existential crisis about my pension scheme – which, to put it bluntly, is rubbish. It is meant to provide me with security, but it is just bombarding me with uncertainty. I hear the messages that when it comes to my finances I must not just live in the moment; I must think ahead and prepare for the future, but the more I prepare the more anxious I seem to become, and I wonder at what point the worrying should stop. Surely by thinking ahead all the time I risk missing what the present has to offer.

A consequence of falling off my bike and breaking my collarbone last year is that I may never be able to go backpacking again, (now carrying a rucksack deadens my whole arm) and that makes me wonder what else I enjoy that could come to an end – even within the next day or two. But coupled with the instinct to make the most of life now is a desire to provide for our children and not be poor when we are old. Where is the balance?

This year I’ve been spending time in the garden – growing vegetables, cutting a tree down and making a compost heap from bits of old wood that were lying around. The compost heap brings me joy. It’s an antidote to an over complicated life. I think it’s the simplicity of the process and the satisfaction of regurgitating what I already possess to produce something new and useful. The compost heap is teaching me to focus on being grateful for what I already have. Sometimes I go into the garden before I start work to plant vegetables and it slows me down. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that the busier he gets the earlier he gets up to pray, and I understand why he does that. The garden is having a calming influence on me and making me feel content. It is creating a bigger context so that my life is not just about work.

I was listening to a radio programme in which the contributors were discussing the influence of technology, which promised to bring us more leisure time, but has just resulted in us working longer and being available 24 hours a day. Why do we do it? Perhaps it’s ambition, security, fear? But maybe work also brings us meaning, satisfaction, purpose – so, for me, it’s balancing the tension between work and rest, but also between living in the moment and concern for the future.

The answer could be to avoid too much focus on storing up more and more for retirement and instead trying to create a life that is less expensive. I’ve been reading a book called Downshift to the Good Life and its author, Lynn Huggins-Cooper, writes ‘To know when you have enough is to be rich.’ So perhaps it’s not my pension scheme but my compost heap that will provide me with enough and make me truly rich. I wonder if the financial advisers would agree!