Life is Short…But Also Long

I recently finished listening to a John D. Rockefeller biography. The audiobook really got me thinking, as I was able to progress through the entire length of the life of arguably one of the most important people in history, in less than a month.

The audiobook stirred questions like,

“How can one best use the time they have for maximum happiness and impact?”

“How could someone so significant in history be fit into such a short audio recording?”

When John D. Rockefeller is remembered, “robber baron,” and “monopolist” come to mind. Yet, the process of refining oil to be used as fuel, through which it can be argued that most of the modern world was built, were a direct result of the Standard Oil company’s technological enhancements to the industry.

What seems shocking is the fact that a man so influential in history, so brilliant, having lived such a long and influential life, could have his life watered down into just 35 hours of narration. Most people will never accomplish anywhere near as much is Mr. Rockefeller did, despite having access to more knowledge, better education, and instantaneous communication technology.

It seems like most people don’t know how to utilize their time.

Seneca tackled this issue during his letter “On The Shortness Of Life.” This snippet of 2000 year old advice is entirely relevant to the modern day.

Seneca states,

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it’s been given to us in generous measure for accomplishing the greatest of things, if the whole of it is well invested. But when life is squandered through soft and careless living, and when it’s spent on no worthwhile pursuit, death finally presses and we realize that the life which we didn’t notice passing has passed away.”

There is a stoic principle of “Memento Mori” which translates as, “remember you are mortal. It is meant to color your perspective and make you think about the fact you are going to die. It is meant to make you think about how you choose to spend your time.

Life will probably be long enough for you to accomplish some of the things that you want to get done. The amount of the goals you hit will depend on how many you have, and how you budget time and money to realize them. Some options will exclude others. For example, you likely cannot become both a cattle rancher and an astronaut at the same time. Remember, as Confucius said, “the man who chases two rabbits catches none.”

You can do anything, but you most likely will not be able to do everything. Sure, there are outliers. Elon Musk is a great example of how a person can accomplish feats that astound the average citizen. However, he too will leave things unfinished when his number comes up.

Life is long for most people, but that doesn’t mean it moves slowly. At some point there will be no more days for you to look forward to. You might reflect on that and see if what you’re doing is what you want to be doing.

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