The Relativity of Time

Something weird happens as you get older: time itself goes faster and faster.

You don’t believe me? You will. It’s a law of nature: the passage of time accelerates as you draw nearer to the end of your life.

I first noticed this as I was approaching middle age, probably in my early thirties. It struck me that when I was a kid, an hour seemed like an eternity. That was one reason why, when offered a choice of whether or not to take piano lessons, I inadvisedly declined: the whole hour the neighbor kid had to spend every day at practice filled my little heart with horror. By the age of 30, an hour felt like a half-hour, barely enough time to get anything done.

Now that I’m old, an hour passes in a minute, sometimes even a second. It goes by unnoticed. Day by day, there’s never enough time to get through all the things I want or need to do.

Yesterday SDXB remarked that he’d been in the Sun City house almost ten years. He moved out of the neighborhood shortly after I moved into my present home. How can that be? I couldn’t possibly have lived here an entire decade!

It confirms what one of my former graduate assistants said the other day. She’d checked in from the Midwest to say she was applying for a swell new job and could use a recommendation. She’s now a mother about to enter her second marriage, working in a publishing house. “I can hardly believe it’s been ten years since I started at GDU,” she said.

Ten years? It hasn’t even been ten months, kid!

But no. I moved into this house at the same time I moved over to GDU’s main campus to found the editorial office that employed her. If SDXB moved to Sun City ten years ago, then she went to work for me ten years ago, and indeed, I bought my present house ten years ago.

SDXB reflected that he and his former wife married over 50 years ago. My ex-DH and I would have been married 45 years this December, had I not run away to the Outback.

What does this have to do with you young pups and your money? A lot.

Before you know it, you’ll be old. At that point, only a few moments will remain in your life, or so it will seem to you. The relativity of time makes it seem like old age is a long way off. But it’s not.

For your money, it means…

Plan early and often for retirement.
Start saving for the future now.
Even if you’re just starting, save more than the standard amount toward retirement.
Put savings in several instruments: a 401(k) or 403(b) if your employer matches contributions, or if not, your own standard IRA; a Roth IRA; and ordinary brokerage accounts. Use non-tax-deferred instruments as well as deferred.
Pay off the roof over your head as quickly as you can.

For the quality of your life it means…

Do not waste your life in a job you hate. If you’re unhappy on the job, search for other work.
Make a plan, one that will guide you in the direction of contentment, if not security. But do not marry your plan—stay flexible and open to new opportunities and ideas.
Get yourself educated in something that will open the door into reasonably un-obnoxious work. Happiness is more important than money, on the job as well as in your personal life.
Take care of your health. Eat well, exercise, and spend time in activities you find pleasurable.
Free yourself, to the extent possible, of the toxic people and situations in your life.
Engage in altruism. The people who are happiest in their careers have relatively low-paying jobs that help others—members of the clergy rank number one in job satisfaction. If you can’t help others for a living, do it as a volunteer.

Enjoy it while you’ve got it.

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Vinny September 29, 2012 at 9:45 am

Great post, Methuselah. I look forward to an update post in another ten years!

My own versions:

In money:

-plan for retirement and save, save, save! Live your twenties and thirties in thrift, both to get accustomed to it and to raise a family. Watch your forties pave over your plans, as divorce, economy, illness, or the other vicissitudes of life prevail. Giggle with God at the fluidity of it all.

In life:

- get educated and build your career. Then build another one, orthogonally opposed to the first one. Got a business degree? Go out and get your electrician’s ticket. Nurse? Teach piano. You are a human being, infinitely customizable. Nature favors diversity.

And your comment about altruism are spot-on. BTW where does FaM spend her volunteer time? I do handyman stuff at a church, and tutor for an adult literacy organization. Puts everything into perspective.

funny September 29, 2012 at 10:31 am

Excellent points, Vinny! Especially given that the generations coming up the pike will change jobs — and sometimes careers — five or more times during their working years. Not only will it make life a lot more interesting to be able to switch to something new, it’s a good idea to be quietly building a second income on the side, if your lifestyle makes that possible. For years, one of my friends has been studying painting as a relief from her stressful job, and it’s paying off: people have begun buying her works.

Difficult as it would be for a fresh young thing in his or her twenties, we probably actually SHOULD be planning for those almost predictable vicissitudes. It’s not difficult, for example, to consider what a couple would do in the event of divorce and set down the details in writing at the time of the marriage. It also would be smart for a couple to think, well in advance, about how they will handle things if one person becomes disabled, dies or loses a job. Thinking about the possibilities, as unpleasant as they may be or as unlikely as we imagine they are, does present a number of options, such as prenuptial agreements, disability and life insurance, and building a large rainy-day fund.

What do I do by way of altruism? IMHO, teaching at the rate that I’m paid is a form of volunteerism. I sing in two church choirs, contributing to the church’s music ministry.

NoTrustFund September 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Time does start to pass quickly. It’s alway made sense to me from the perspective that when you are 10 a year is 1/10 of your life vs 1/30 when you are thirty and 1/50 when you are 50.

I love the pay off your house argument. We just bought our house and I’m shocked how many people still advise to take out the biggest mortgage. We want our mortgage paid off ASAP.

In terms of quality of life I am still working on marrying a job I love with one that pays the bills with one that has at least some flexibility while I have little ones. Still a work in process and in the meantime we try to save as much as possible.

Thanks for the post.

Kerry September 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm

It’s posts like these that make me want to be an archaeologist/professor even when my grandfather keeps saying it’s stupid. I think it would be more fun to have a smaller house and have more experiences than to have to live the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ lifestyle that’s so prevalent. It’s really hard to know what’s a good idea though.

Some of this stuff, I’m not really at the point where I can do it as I’m just barely getting by with school. But what I don’t do now, I’m striving for, and posts like this make me feel okay that life is a journey and not a laid-out calendar.

Funny about Money September 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm

You do know what Ph.D. stands for in archaeology, right? “Post-hole digger.”

narf narf narf… academic humor’s grand stuff, ain’t it?

Seriously, there are jobs for archaeologists. Historic and prehistoric sites have to be excavated ahead of freeways and public building construction. These projects do employ young Ph.D.’s in archaeology. There are forensic archaeologists, who excavate crime sites and serve as investigators for government agencies in the US and abroad. And some state and federal agencies employ archaeologists…you’re not necessarily locked in to higher ed.

E. Murphy September 30, 2012 at 8:51 am

Vinny, you are adorable.

Revanche September 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Remind me to share a funny story with you one of these days over a drink, about “post-hole digger”…..

And yes yes yes time definitely goes by faster as you get older. And somehow, I feel like my time gets compressed as well, so it’s not just going faster but there’s more of it squashed into the speeding bullet. But honestly, this is precisely why I’m spending less time doing things that stress me out (not that my body’s very strong reaction to them isn’t just as much a factor) – but frankly, I’m too old for this crap.

We simply can’t waste our precious time that’s going to zip right on past on things that aren’t positive and productive.

Evan October 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I am a generation below you and it pains me to think about stuff like this! Literally gives me anxiety.

The thought that college was 10 years ago is SCARY to me. The fact that the kid has been alive 2 years and that the wife was pregnant 3 or so years ago and that we had a miscarriage even before that! Where does the time go.

I have the same exact sentiments when it comes to the job aspect. Who the hell wants to be miserable for 10, 20 or 30 years!

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