There are two ways of looking at life so far as how we live it: we either make a contribution and/or we make an investment. That is, we make active contributions to life and/or we invest in people’s lives, including our own.
Contribution is about frontline activity, whereas investment is about support. In sporting terms, contribution is to the offensive function as investment is to be defensive function. Contribution is about scoring goals, and investment is about assisting those scoring the goals. Contribution is about applying knowledge and skills, whereas investment is about learning them. Contribution is about performance; investment is about development.
We tend to start out investing in our own lives, until we reach our 20s, before spending the next 20 to 30 years in a period of contribution. And then, at about age 50 or 60, we begin to invest more again, but this time in others’ lives.
We also have work that is either contribution-focused and/or investment-focused.
Weighing Up Where We Are At
Whilst we are more or less either contributors or investors, the phases of our lives find us identifying more with one than the other. When we are young we are naturally more ambitious—more goal-focused. We have worlds to conquer. As we age we get to appreciate, more and more, that the meaning of life is mysterious and we get more curious. The older we get the more philosophical our outlook. And the more we think about these things the more we feel the pull to invest.
But we can be inspired to add sprinklings of contribution at an older age, just as we can be compelled to invest at a much younger age.
All we can do, as we think about our lives, is determine what phase we are currently in—and be comfortable with it. Why should we get frustrated with ourselves if we are not achieving when we are actually in a phase of investment? Conversely, we shouldn’t decry being in the limelight when it is our season to contribute.
Appreciating what phase of life we are in, and enjoying that part of the ride, is wisdom. And this sense of wisdom is also peace; to have right-sized the expectations we have of ourselves.
Planning for the Next Phase
One of the joys of life is planning for the next phase. We get to use our imaginations in pondering what life could be like beyond the present challenges.
If we are currently contributing to a great extent, then we can look forward to a time when the pressure won’t be so great. Having traversed the season of investment, for instance learning, we can look forward to a season of application—to make our contribution.
Understanding and accepting our phase of life—whether it is contributing or investing—is both wisdom and peace. We need both functions.
Of course, contributing can be seen as investing as investing can also be seen as contributing.
Enjoying life is about vision; knowing what we’re about and what we want. Contributing and investing are both worthwhile phases to be enjoyed.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.