Above all things, we take the time we have left with the people who matter to us for granted. We assume there will always be tomorrow, we can always call an hour later, or we can see each other again next week, next month, or next year. But the time we have left with the people who matter most to us is limited. While on the surface we might think we have years, when you add up the actual time, it turns out only to be days. You can even calculate just how much with this calculator.
Knowing all this, we text more often than we call, we and we message each other more often than we see each other face to face. We choose short, shallow interactions over deep and meaningful conversations.
We accumulate fans, followers, subscribers, and visitors to websites as if those are worthwhile metrics to measure the quality of our lives. We compare our lives to the highlight reels of everyone else's, prioritizing attention over connection, and vanity over value. But the only metric that's worth measuring your life with is time well spent.
In the ten years since I graduated from business school, I lived at my parent's house well into my 30's to get my career as an author and speaker off the ground. I got a front row seat to watching them age. They took more pills and moved more slowly. And it brought me face to face with the reality of their mortality.
- There would eventually be a day when I'd never hear the sound of my dad's voice, or visit Costco with him where he's become the unofficial brand ambassador, with the tagline "everything in this house except your Mom is from Costco."
- There would eventually be a day when I'd never eat one of my mom's home-cooked Indian meals again
I used to think, I had lost close to a decade of my life during that time. It certainly wasn't the kind of 30's I hoped or imagined it would be. It made it almost impossible to date. I was filled with this perpetual sense of shame that I hadn't managed to get my shit together. When I finally did move out, I thought I'd hardly ever go back.
But within a year, I found myself at my parents' house for dinner every Sunday. With a slight shift in perspective, I finally started to see that I hadn't lost ten years of my life. Instead, I got to spend more time than any of us are ever given with some of the people who matter most to us.
Families are in the words of Cheryl Strayed, "unforgivingly complex." They're full of dramas, disagreements, and disappointments. There are moments in our lives when the people who love us unconditionally seem so insane we think that God must have made a sorting error to pair us with them. They drive us crazy, push our buttons, and there are days when we've had enough. Nobody is immune to this. But here's something to consider.
We assume that they will always be a phone call away, that we can talk to them next week. We're too busy to call, too lazy to write, and one hour in traffic is just too long to see each other for dinner. And each time we part ways, we assume that we'll see each other again. We don't hesitate to be harsh with our words, argue with each other or criticize each other. We never consider the possibility that this could always be the very last conversation we have.
Don't Speak in a Manner You'll Regret Later
In the book Inner Engineering, the author shares the story of a thirteen-year-old sister and eight-year-old brother who are taken by Nazi soldiers. The brother forgot his shoes and the very last thing she said to him before they were separated was
"You idiot! Don't we have enough trouble on our hands? We don't know where our parents are, we don't know where we're going! And now you go and lose your shoes? What am I supposed to do with you?"
She never saw him again and concluded: "It doesn't matter who I meet, I will never speak to them in a manner that I regret later because this meeting could be my last." So many of us speak to each other in a manner we would regret later if it was the last time we met.
- Last year sometime, I unloaded on my mom over my dating life when she said something that hurt before I boarded a flight to Colombia. Fortunately, it wasn't our last meeting, but it easily could have been. If something had happened, both of us would have regretted it.
- My oldest friend from college got in a slight argument with her mother over a piece of clothing her mother had picked up for her. For some reason, it wasn't stylish enough. But when her mother passed away right after college, she remembered that moment and regretted it.
Before you criticize your son or daughter for something you disapprove of, vilify a stranger on the internet, or send a scathing email to someone, remember there's always the possibility that this will be your very last interaction with them. Make sure you don't regret it.
A New Definition of Rich
There's an infinite value that can't be measured to the time we have left to the people who matter to us. Today, you're probably thinking about the goals that you want to accomplish in 2019. But I want to encourage you to think about something else:
- If you're a parent, think about the time you have left with your kids and vice versa
- If you have a best friend who doesn't live close by, pick up the phone and call despite the physical distance or time difference.
Pick up the phone and call. Write a letter instead of an email. Book a flight. We need to hear each other's voices to touch each other's hearts truly. And you can't do that with tweets, status updates and text messages. The ultimate measure of a meaningful life is time well spent on things and with the people who matter most to us. That's my new definition of rich.
This post was inspired by this video below, which I highly recommend you watch. It will make you reconsider what's really important.