I’ve often thought of my life as a slingshot metaphor. The distance traveled is proportionate to how far one pulls the elastic band back. Learning new skills pulls the band back. Saving money earned now for later pulls the band back. Exercising so my future self enjoys good health pulls the band back. But these things all add stress as they stretch the elastic band. If done in moderation, this pent-up stress will propel me forward in life. But apply too much stress and the band may snap. Since a snapped band is a metaphor for death, this is less than ideal.
If you spend your entire life saving every penny and never get to enjoy it, then what was the point? Ebenezer Scrooge learned this and was able to reform in his old age. If you spend every waking moment in the gym and never enjoy delicious delicacies, this too is a poor outcome. It’s easy to become so focused on a current goal that we lose sight of the primary purpose: to propel us forward.
If all you did was stick a rock in a slingshot and not pull it back, your payload is going nowhere. So adding some stress is necessary if you want to get anywhere in life, but how much is ideal and when should we release it? How do we figure out how much time we should spend preparing to live the life we want vs. living it?
One of the first steps is to consider your own mortality and figure out when you’re going to die. The Social Security Administration provides a calculator to determine your estimated total years. I’m currently expected to live to 81.4.
I prefer to make this information visual by following the “Your Life in Weeks” method. This shows how many weeks you’ve already lived compared to the total weeks you’re expected to live. I’ve already lived 1812 of my 4227 weeks on this planet. That’s 42.9% of my life already complete. You may think this exercise is morbid, but I find it inspiring. Time is precious, and this visual reinforces the importance of enjoying every minute.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Walden: Henry David Thoreau commented on the irony of “spending of the best part of one’s life earning money to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.”
Traditional retirement may begin at age 65, but health declines as we age. It’s unlikely that you’ll be backpacking Europe in your 70s no matter how much money you set aside, so it’s best to enjoy some activities while you have the health for it.
If this concept intrigues you, I’d recommend checking out this video which talks more about what happens in each one of those little boxes.