Happy New Year everyone. I only have 14,583 days to live.
According to the most generous statistics I could find, the average life span for a human born in the developed world is 78.74 years. That is 28,740.1 days. Think about that for a second. 30,000 miles on a car is pretty close to a new car. 30,000 dollars in a retirement account will leave you destitute. 30,000 people is the population of a small town. 30,000 words is the length of the average young adult novel. To travel 30,000 feet would not even take you six miles from your home. 30,000 days is about all most people get; I have already lived 14,157 of mine.
I came across that fact while reading a book called The Humans. When the character stated it, it was like I had just been knocked sideways out of my chair. Incredulously, I pulled out my iPhone to check the math on the calculator and stared at the bleak truth. Then for quite some time I just sat there. That is a tiny little number. Sure, I am a healthy guy. I hope to outstrip that number, but either way, it is not a lot of time. In my mind there are only two possible responses to staring directly at that number, and I have experienced both. The first is crushing despair in which you allow yourself to consider the temporal blink your life really is. The other, and the only viable choice is to self-assess, make deliberate choices, and live with the urgency people normally reserve for house fires.
So, I started with my phone. I am not a fan of being bossed around, but here I am like one of Pavlov's dogs every time it dings or rings or beeps. A recent study has revealed that the average person with a smartphone spends ninety minutes a day calling, texting, tweeting, and surfing the web. Do a little multiplication and that is 1,423.5 days. That is almost five percent of your time here on earth.
I put new batteries into my watches. I had stopped wearing a watch because the clock was right there on the lock screen of my phone. But how many times have you looked at your phone for the time and gotten pulled in by a text, email, or app? Used correctly, my phone is remarkable and helpful. I like being able to send a quick text, having a camera with me everywhere I go, and finding my way with GPS when I make a wrong turn. Used incorrectly it is burdensome. It is exhausting having something constantly prodding for your attention and demanding more of your time, forcing you to respond that instant and do things you had not set out to do.
I want to be deliberate with my money and purchases as well. When my wife and I decide we need to buy something, we try to get it used. Most of my clothes are from second-hand stores. Many of our Christmas presents, including our son's favorite, were previously owned. This simple process of tracking down quality used items rather than buying new brings me a great deal of happiness. I look at the world my kids will inherit and know that I am reducing my carbon footprint and helping keep useable goods out of a landfill. I am saving hundreds of dollars that can be spent instead on experiences like travel, concerts, museums, and charity. I am sending a message to my students who may not be able to afford the newest fashions that it does not matter, that it is not about clothes. I am breaking the grip of materialism and choosing what I want to give my money to.
Next is my house. We are purging our house aggressively and with great joy. To give you an idea of the scope of this, I have already driven more than five packed carloads of stuff to donation centers and the local dump. Something as simple as getting dressed is easier because everything in my closet is something I actually like, and I can see it all. My kids have toys they actually play with, and a place to put them away. The old forgotten toys are now in the hands of kids for whom they are new and exciting. Every time I take a bag out of the house I feel freer. There is a great TED Talk called "Less Stuff, More Happiness" by Graham Hill that talks about ruthlessly editing your life, culling out some of the stuff that bogs us down. We are going through every drawer and every shelf and freeing ourselves of the burden of all that stuff. Imagine a house filled only with your favorite things. Imagine the lightness of owning only what you need.
One of the biggest immediate results of these changes is that I am not telling my kids to hold on quite as frequently. For any parents reading this, think about that. Childhood is fleeting and utterly beautiful. We all know this, but we don't always respect it. Right now, my sons want to share with me every single thing that excites them. Too often, I respond by sending the message that it is not important to me to share that moment. Don't get me wrong, some of what they want to share is mind-numbingly boring. I can only pretend to be a ninja for so long. But, I want to be deliberate about those choices. Is what I am doing worth what I might miss? For how many years will they turn to me with such excitement? How many times will I be able to really watch and listen to their laughter? Do I want to respond to an email or their excitement? These are deliberate choices.
Phones and stuff in my house are just the start. Making deliberate choices about who I spend time with, how I interact with people, how I use all of my limited time matters. I want to be connected to people in meaningful ways so I have been writing hand-written letters, and receiving the most thoughtful and amazing responses. I am giving people I speak with my full attention. I am thinking more carefully about my classroom, my lessons, and the students I am so fortunate to teach. I am trying very hard to smile more.
The clock is running and it is running fast. We are being chased by Death, and he is going to catch us. For all of us, it will be sooner than we like. We must find the wasted moments and cut them out like a cancer. With the time we have here, we must be deliberate in what we do.
14,582 to go. Tick tock. Tick tock.