Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Time-Line

              U R HERE

Your life will last, on average, about 80 years.  Looking at your personal timeline, on a regular basis is illustrative.

Time is the one thing we all have in common.   We swim in a sea of time.  We live it, we breathe it, and yet we seldom appreciate it for what it is, or even think about how it underlies our very existence.

We have a finite amount of time on this Earth, and yet we fail to appreciate that.   And at the other extreme, we tend to obsess about the now, without thinking of the long-term.

For example, in High School, many young kids end up troubled in one form or another.   High School sucks, period, and the best thing about it is leaving it and never going back.  It is only four years of your life, often the worst four years (not the "best years of your lives" as some idiots posit).  But to a kid who is only 14, it seems like an eternity.

Time is non-linear.   That is an easy observation, and yet one that few make.  Time flows only in one direction for us mortals, but it speeds up as we get older.  Why is this?  The simple reason that increments of time, in proportion to our overall existence, become smaller.

For example, at age 10, one year is 10% of your life.  A year seems like a long time - a school year is an eternity, and it seems like Christmas will never come.   By age 20, however, this same year is only 5% of your life, and thus passes more swiftly.

By age 50, a year is 2% of your life and the years flip by like pages riffled in a book.  There never seems to be enough time to get things done, and it seems that each week, month, season, and year is passing faster than the previous one.

And you start to realize that your time is indeed finite and it is running out, quickly.

But to a teenager, the opposite problem occurs.  High School seems like an eternity, not just four years.    And this is because four years is about 1/4 of your life at that point (and maybe 1/2 of your conscious adult life at that point).  So it seems permanent, serious, and of course, long.  But, in a few short years, you will leave the hallowed halls of your local High School, and likely never go back.  What seemed to important then will seem trivial, stupid, and silly, just a few years later.

And yet, many young people, despondent over High School life, do stupid things like drop out, kill themselves, or kill others - all because they cannot see that four years from now, life will be a lot, lot, different.

And as adults, many of us blithely assume that "this will go on forever" and that "I will save for retirement when I am older".  On a Canadian radio broadcast today, I heard a 33-year-old "investor" say that he planned to retire at age 45, but that 12 years was "a long way off" and he had plenty of time to save for an early retirement.

I laughed.  The years between 40 and 50 snapped by in a flash.  A decade is hardly enough time to save up enough to retire on, particularly if you plan on retiring at age 45 and have to wait 20 more years just to collect Social Security or to tap into your 401(k).   We all make bold promises at age 30, don't we?

Unfortunately, the nature of time escapes most of us, or we don't really understand it until we are drawing our last breaths.