Politics, Community & Society > Time is not Money

Time is not Money

Published: March 7, 2011

The business people and the economists may take umbrage with the idea that time is not money. But this is neither a business or econ paper. In fact, I'm pretty sure everyone alive once knew this fact as the invention of time preceded the invention of money by, well, a long time.

But now that we have this somewhat old saw in our lexicon, we have trouble making sensible decisions. My first example of this was a recent experience at work. I was setting up a business trip and I arranged the schedule to avoid a plane change in the middle of the US in January. I did this by driving to LA and catching a direct flight vice leaving from San Diego and changing planes somewhere in the middle of the US.

This saved the US government $50 in airfare, took me the same nominative amount of time to cross the country and avoided the risk of being stranded halfway through the trip. A risk that proved to be real for everyone who had to make a connection that week as there was a huge ice storm hitting the middle bits of the country.

In business, this would have simply got me a pat on the back from the boss who would have recognized that I saved the company money and made it back in time to do my job the next week. Business thinks that way. The government, by and large, doesn't. So I got to waste even more time explaining that saving my time and saving the government money was possibly a good thing. Eventually, it got sorted out and I spent less time arguing than I'd have spent stranded in the Midwest. But to me it was a total waste to even have the discussion, it was a win-win deal that the auditors would have preferred been a win to them-risk lose to me deal. In general, I'm OK with auditors, but not this time.

The problem is that people see a rule on paper and suddenly the rule takes on some sort of omnipotent power over our days. Put the brain in park, just follow the rule and waste your life being the overarching axiom.

The problem comes from looking back vice forward. All these rules were written in the past. Probably for a somewhat reasonable reason. But over time the inflexibility of the rule becomes parasitical.

This leads me into my brother and his upcoming retirement. He has grown up quite a bit from the days when we just charged off and did whatever pops into our heads (in this sense, he has now been promoted from younger brother in in fact, to older brother in practice.)

So he came to me and asked "what should I be thinking about to get ready for this retirement thing?" My first thought was "What would be your post retirement job?" The answer there was much like Yukon Cornelius in "Rudolph the red Nosed Reindeer", i.e. "Nuttin".

Technically, I've retired twice. And I still work full time. I think retirement once made sense back when work involved using your body as a machine and then stopping when the machine wore out. That really isn't the case for most people. Sure it applies to pro athletes and exotic dancers, but otherwise, most folks can work as long as they can get to their desks. So most folks when they retire, they do something else.

His concerns tilted I think to the areas of money and health care. Yes, both are legit concerns. But his organization has good post employment programs for both. But we both grew up back in the days when no money directly translated into no food. So I see that there is some concern. But once you have made it to top 5% of the income strata and have a steady income for sitting at home, well, you won't go hungry. Basically if there are cash issue they relate to things on the luxury end of the spectrum, i.e. vacations and other frills. You will get to the end of the line without going cold or hungry. As to health care, now that is not a given, but that tends to how badly the current system is degraded by health care laws. Not something related to the individual retirement decision.

So with those two in the rear view mirror, my suggestion was to focus on the future day to day existence. My brother and his spouse have been working and raising kids for over three decades. One of the kids has returned to the nest. Two others are within a few hours drive. That will be part of the final analysis.

But the bigger part is this. Him and his future ex-wife will be sharing the same the space around the clock until they run out of time. It generally only takes about 6 months of that until the time-space continuum replaces the fallacious time-money continuum and ends up going horribly wrong. Nearly every high achieving person I know who has gone into total retirement after 30-40 years of working is about 6 months away from a domestic conflagration of epic proportions. Sure this does not apply to all, but the general scenario has to do with "who owns the stick" around the house. The spouse who had the house running like a top, now has a "helper". Turns out she doesn't really need staff.

Or in my brother's case, one of the most recent nuisances he delivered to the home front was the box containing 20 copies of our last book. He let the book sit unopened on the basement carpet for a few days. It drew so much verbal fire, he left it there unopened a few more days. Can you imagine what it will be like when it is no longer a cardboard box on the basement floor 24-7? What happens when it is my brother prostrate on the floor for a week watching Shameless around the clock?

A former coworker was a student in my class last week. He was describing why he stopped biking to work. He couldn't decide if it was worse to have a mirror on his bike and see the car that was going to hit him, or not have the mirror and just die quickly. His solution was to stop biking on roads. For me, I bike on roads without a mirror, but my head is on a swivel, I'm checking 360 degrees for anything that could hit me.

This goes to the idea that Michael Chabon used as a catchphrase in Kavalier and Klay. His idea there was "Don't focus on what you are running away from, think about what you are running towards."

That is the best advice I can give anyone on this issue. I see people can get into the "take this job and shove it" approach and just quit work. But that really is living life in the rear-view mirror.

Look everywhere. Ahead, sideways and sure even the occasional glance behind. Just keep moving.

Any Comments?


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