The important things in life

A wise person once told me that as you get older, more and more things become unimportant.

A teenager would get worked up over the teeniest minutiae: size of pimples, level of popularity in class, which t-shirt to wear with which jeans, which team will win the football game tonight, and so on. Things that amount to nothing on the very next day.

In your 20s, you start to think of the “important” matters, i.e., impressing members of the opposite sex, getting a college degree, landing a job. Then comes the 30s, which means kids, a house and a stable income. Once you have a child of your own, all things pale in comparison (A friend told me this; I wouldn’t know since I have no kid of my own yet. He also told me that when he was holding his newborn son for the first time, he thought about the follies of youth and laughed. Especially at the part where he’d move mountains and part oceans to impress girls, so that he could land one of them into a marriage, resulting in, among others, the baby he is holding in his arm.)

And then the baby becomes a small kid, and then other babies arrive in succession, and before long you have to send the oldest one to school. You scrap all your “ambitions”, “passions”, and “desires”. You start to live vicariously through your children. In other words, reality sets in. You sacrifice your dreams, so that the kids can achieve theirs. You throw out your old guitar, discarding along with it the one-time dream you’ve had of forming a rock band with your former college mates (all of whom, by the way, are now overweight and balancing babies on their arthritic knees). Then comes deteriorating health: decreasing stamina, the occasional joint pains, and blood pressure numbers that would worry your doctor slightly. Nothing really bad, just enough to remind you that the train of Life had left the Youth station.

This is half-time. But hey, you’re in your prime: you are not struggling to make a living anymore, you are secure in your job as a middle-manager at some department at some company, along with the perks and disposable incomes that come with it. Life is good. And your kids. The kids! All grown up, fine men and women, arms akimbo, full of life, ready to conquer the world like the cocky world-changers they are meant to be (exactly like you were 20 years ago). But first, their dream weddings, which you have to pay for (that is the “dream” part, for the children that is).

Before long, come the grandkids, and then retirement. Finally you are free from worldly responsibilities. No more meetings to chair, no more bullshit paperwork to prepare, no more bosses to answer to, no more sales target to achieve, no more subordinates to lead and groom and inspire with your leadership. Your fiefdom is now severely curtailed. Now you’re the king of just your household. Welcome to retirement age!

Retirement involves the painful realization that nobody at the fish market gives a hoot that you were a bigshot. To other people, all retirees are alike. Your motor skills and cognitive skills are in decline. Doing things that you take for granted your whole life is now a chore. The joint pains are getting worse, you have to squint to read the newspaper, and you get extremely happy if the result of your medical checkup is “ok-lah, not terrible”.

Now, very few things matter anymore. It makes no difference whatsoever where you went to school, where you worked at, which bigshots you know, which positions you held, how much you made, or how much property you own. The only concern you have is for your immediate family (who, by the way, will do fine even when you are gone). And then the kids move further and further away, taking the grandkids with them: a son gets a job overseas, a daughter gets posted at a small town hundred of kilometers away. They have lives of their own.

At this point, even fewer things are really important. Nothing makes you happier than having your children come to visit. You try to take up an “old people” hobby like tai-chi or gardening, but your heart is really not into it. None of your friends from your bigshot days come to visit. You read the newspaper, and watch the TV, but you cannot connect with the dem young ones what with their funny music, funny fashion and funny way of speaking. You cling hopelessly to the remnants of your youth by watching old films and listening to old music. Reading doesn’t interest you anymore; you lost the intellectual spark years ago. You reminisce about the “good old days” even more.

Now it’s autumn. The leaves are falling. Your beloved spouse, the one you pledge to spend your life with, is also deteriorating, physically and mentally. It is a morbid race, of who will reach the finish line first, but instead of a medal, you get dirt. You make just enough friends and make good with just enough neighbors that you will not die alone. All the money in the world, all the prestige you accumulated in your storied career, all the honors and acknowledgments, all that amount to nothing. You just want to pass your final days in peace, with God and with the God’s green earth. And to have your loving family around you, as you move on. That’s the only thing that matters now.


Well, sorry for the long read but the point is: Very few things really matter in the big picture. Stop sweating over the unimportant stuff.



1. Wealth

2. Power

3. Status in society

Good to have, but not that important in the big picture:

1. Money (above what is necessary)

2. Education (above what is necessary)

3. Job (above what is necessary)


1. Family & friends

2. Health

3. Being a good person


One Response to The important things in life

  1. Khoon Yu says:

    Well written! Morbid indeed, but the “reality” it is.

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