Measuring Life

This is something we all know, but some of us need a reminder about every now and then. You don’t measure your life by how long it is (although that’s no reason to desire less than a long life); you measure it by how much you’ve lived in the time span you’re given. Since none of us knows exactly how much we’re given, it behooves us to live as much as possible, as energetically as possible, with the proper focus on what’s of actual value in our lives… EVERY DAY.

Just recently I mentioned in conversation to a friend that I felt like Senior Citizen discounts were unnecessary; that I perceive them as a reward for not having died yet. I felt like still being alive was reward enough. He laughed but also said that while he understood my outlook, he spent some time each day making sure he knew about every SC discount he could find to make sure he took advantage of all of them. On the one hand, in today’s world of ever increasing costs, it’s smart to make sure you save money where you can. On the other hand, balance that against your time and what it’s worth.

And before I go on to discuss how I think life should be measured, let me talk about the value of time for a minute. Most adults go to work a full time job and either get paid an hourly rate or earn a salary (or they work for themselves and are never really sure what they’re getting paid day to day when they run a small business). If you work for an hourly rate, then you know exactly what you’re getting paid for your time: X number of dollars per hour. If you work on a salary, that salary is based on a forty hour work week so if you do the math you should still be making X number of dollars per hour, BUT… if you have to work more than forty hours per week, the number of dollars per hour is reduced. The more you work, the less your hour is worth. Tuck that away and let’s talk about the true value of that hour, in dollars and sense for a moment.

What is an hour worth?  If you were a multi-billionaire and knew you were going to die on a given day, but someone came to you and could guarantee you an extra week for a million dollars, would you pay it? Sure you would. People pay, or accept responsibility for the cost of, extending their lives all the time. We call it healthcare and the entire health insurance industry is based on our desire to extend the length and quality of our lives. Most people I know, if they had the money, would happily pay a million dollars per hour to extend their lives. So what’s that hour of your time really worth? If you had it to pay out, there’s really no cap on the dollar value. Since most of us don’t have that kind of money, it’s worth what we can afford. But isn’t it interesting that we don’t seem to value that hour the same way when we’re at work?

Go back to that salaried position where you make X number of dollars per hour based on a forty hour week. If you work fifty hours instead, you’ve devalued your hour by 25% (10 hours is 25% of 40 hours, so you’ve giving an extra 25% without any increase in pay). Why would you do that? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the business perspective of the value of a salaried employee versus an hourly employee. But from the employee’s perspective, the salary is worth it if the job can be done (generally) in forty hours per week. Some weeks call for more but some weeks call for less. The balance should be an average of 40 hours per week. If you offer an employee a salaried position at 40 hours per week and then increase their work load so much that they have to work 50 hours per week… OR if you hire them for a salaried position and then MANDATE that they work 50 hours per week, you’re stealing their time. You’re stealing 10 hours per week that they can’t get back AND you’re not paying them the salary you agreed to – because a salary is based on a 40 hour work week. So if the salary was $800 per week ($20 per hour) but you mandate them to work 50 hours, then you’re only paying them $16 per hour. If I were that employee I’d be relatively angry… but a great many people not only put up with such, they embrace it; they hang on to it; they work harder and longer to protect it. We all need to be able to pay our bills and change is frightening, but value your work hours appropriately and demand that your employer do so as well. Now… let’s get back to measuring the value of life.

There are 168 hours in a week. Most of us work 40-50 of them. Most of us sleep 35-40 of them. That leaves us with another roughly 80-90 hours to fill. What do we do with them? We eat, we watch television, we exercise, we spend time socializing, we take care of our children and our pets, we do chores. We do all those things that need to be done day to day to get through life to the next day. Along the way, how much are you really living?

When was the last time you were up before the sun but then made the time to watch a sunrise? When was the last time you sat and relaxed and enjoyed your morning cup of coffee instead of just drinking as you could around your morning routine simply to get the caffeine in? (I’ve been guilty of that at times.) When was the last time you sat around a campfire and shared stories with your friends, giggling at each other’s silliness but laughing at the moments in life that should be appreciated? When was the last time you hugged your grandchildren or read your child a bed time story? What is it that you like to do that challenges you and fills your life with unforgettable experiences? Do you hike? Camp? Skydive? Scuba dive? Bicycle? Kayak? Surf?

Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, when was the last time you did it and simply reveled in the doing? All the better if what you love to do is also your job. Mark Twain said, “If your vocation is a vacation then you never work a day in your life.” So very few of us actually enjoy that circumstance. More of us should. And that’s where I’d like you to really sit back and think for a few minutes: make time on a day off while you sip your cup of coffee (or tea or whatever) and watch the sunrise. Are you doing enough of the things that add value to your life? Or are you simply filling the time enriching someone else and tending to life’s chores?

Make the time. Do the things that enrich your days. You never know how many of them you have and each of them is of greater value than even the richest man on earth could ever pay.

 

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