I’ve got a lot of time before I die

31 Jul

I tend to focus on time a lot. I think about how I should finish this MOOC as soon as I can. I should read this book ASAP. I should improve this language as much as I can in as short a time as possible. I recently wrote to my dad that “I feel the pressure of the hours rather than that of the years.”

You should understand that I’m not just rushing around willy-nilly because I was born after 1980, nor because of the influence of Facebook or television on my brain. Not at all. I am rushing around because I understand that investments pay off. Skills and knowledge don’t work exactly like money, but I think that the same general principle applies. With money, X dollars invested many years ago can be considerably larger than X, but if you’ve only invested that money recently it will hardly have grown at all. In a parallel fashion, the sooner I gain a skill, the more results I will see from the use of that skill over the course of my lifetime. For example, if I learn how the human body works at age 20, I can do half a century of medical research or medical work using that knowledge. Even if I don’t actively use that knowledge, merely having the awareness of such knowledge in my brain broadens my view and improves my life. However, if I study and I gain such knowledge at age 60, then I simple have less time to use it. That is how I often think about knowledge and skills: the sooner I get it, the more I will be able to use it.

And I think that it is right. Proper. Correct. But I shouldn’t think of everything that way. I shouldn’t think of single, isolated goals that way. I shouldn’t think of my leisure activities that way. I’ll dive into this a little bit deeper.

I have a list of life goals. It is a flexible list, and I regularly take items off it or add new items to it. One thing that has stayed on there for a long time is “run a marathon.” I only started to work toward that when I was in a pretty bad period of life in the autumn of 2011, and since then I have, on and off, been progressing toward that goal. Recently I’ve stopped running in order to focus on Portuguese, and I feel bad, because I know that my goal of running a marathon is getting farther away from me. But I shouldn’t feel bad. I have plenty of time to do it. Finishing a marathon will not have increasing returns over time: it isn’t a skill that will benefit me more if I do it in two weeks as opposed to in two decades. (with the possible exception of bragging rights, but I feel that my two half-marathons already give me enough of that).

I feel the same about all the literature and the history that I want to read. I’ve got over 1000 books on my to-read list on Goodreads. Some of those could be useful for jobs in the future, but a good part of them are also just there for my own pleasure. The history of Japan, classic literature from Russia, and the philosophy which piques my interest all falls into this category. I shouldn’t rush to do these things… and neither should you.

There are some things that should be rushed. I really should pay off my debts as soon as I possibly can, because those are the type of thing that will keep growing until I get rid of them. The longer I wait, the harder it will be. I do want to improve my language skills as quickly as possible, because then I will be able to use them more, effectively getting a greater return on investment. I should learn how to use excel. But we should be careful not to lump everything into the ‘urgent’ category. And even for things that might turn out to be careers, I don’t necessarily need to start those immediately. I need to remember that I’ve got many years left to do these things, and therefore I’ve got many hours left. A question on Quora about people who started after the mid-20s gives me a lot of hope. All those legends, all those succesful people who didn’t even start until they were older than I am. I think that is a good point to end on.

2 Responses to “I’ve got a lot of time before I die”

  1. themantisshrimp July 31, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Whoa. That’s quite a large reading list. Doable though. 1 book a week for 20 years. Nice. I do something similar with my goals too. Certainly makes a difference when it comes to achieving them.

    • joseph.lemien@gmail.com August 1, 2013 at 3:42 am #

      Well, I’ve only been collecting recomendations for about two years, but I am pretty ambitious. I’ll just add everything that looks interesting to the list. After all, I plan on having at least 50 more years of life (hopefully more!), so I should have time to get to them. I also assume that some of them will get removed from the list at some point, when I lose interest in a certain area or re-assess them.

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