Running Out of Time

Yesterday, as the oldest millennial, I just crossed a line – 40. Did anything change? Not really. My hair didn’t suddenly fall off. I didn’t buy a red sports car or a cruise ticket. I still don’t know how to play bingo. And I didn’t just herniate a disc… it happened a few months ago. Things look more or less the same.

If anything is different, it would be thinking about the limitation of time.

We all have a certain amount of time on earth. I am thankful to have spent 40 wonderful years, and I don’t know how much longer I will have. 30 more years? 40 more years? 10 more years? (I hope not.) No one knows. But one thing is for sure, it will end someday.

Because of my faith and belief in an afterlife, our time on Earth feels very much like a vacation. There could still be great things to do after the vacation is over. But when I’m on it, I know my time is precious and I want to make every minute awesome and meaningful before I board that flight out. My mind is focused on what’s going on and what I am supposed to do next.

Speaking of vacation, I just went on one to Cancún.

Why Cancún, you might ask? Back in February, politician Ted Cruz was blasted by the media for having a family vacation to Cancún when his state, Texas, was in the middle of a historical freeze, and the country was at the lowest point of the pandemic before the vaccine was available to the general public. Regardless of the politics, one thing that made an impression on me was that I wanted to go to Cancún too! If Ted Cruz would risk all the horrible optics and political fallout to go to Cancún, it must mean one of two things, or both: he’s incredibly clueless, or Cancún is so amazing it’s worth the risk.

Either way, the Mexico Department of Tourism needs to erect a statue for this man. And Cancún is where I need to be when it’s safe to do so.

You do you, Ted!

Sure thing! In July, armed with two vaccine shots and enough face masks to make us hockey goalies, Tracy and I made the trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

However, even as we were planning for this trip, we were faced with a choice. There are two ways to vacation. You can either do nothing and completely relax in an all-inclusive hotel, lie on the beach, play sand with your feet while pouring food and drinks into your mouth, or be like a maniac going from place to place in search of new stuff to see and do. There is actually nothing wrong with either approach, just different.

While it was tempting to choose the relaxing route, and let the ocean and sunlight wash away our fatigue of being more or less stuck at home for the past 18 months, Tracy and I ultimately chose the latter route. Let’s go crazy!

We spent seven blissful days in Tulum, Valladolid, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancún. We toured Chichen Itza, The Tulum Ruins, Ek Balam, Rio Secreto, Xcaret and Xplor parks, Isla Mujeres, and hopped from cenote (enormous and beautiful sinkholes) to cenote. By the end of the day, I would be so tired and loudly complaining “why am I doing this? This is a freaking vacation, not a boot camp.” Then I remembered scenes like these and remembered why, and kept going the next day. By the end of the vacation, I was more tired than ever.

But was it worth it? Absolutely!

To me, these adventures and my memories of them are worth more than sunbathing at the beach. When we boarded that flight back, we knew we did it right.

In life, once we obtain basic living standards like food, housing, and health care, we are often faced with two choices of what to do with our extra time: familiar leisure or adventurous labor. There is nothing wrong with either choice, and life is definitely better if there is a mix of the two. However, if one believes that the ultimate meaning in life derives from impact, not enjoyment, then it makes sense to spend most of your time on adventurous labor, to make the world better, to make your environment better, and to make yourself better.

Speaking of familiar leisure, during the pandemic, one leisure activity we indulged the most was watching TV.

In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly successful Broadway musical Hamilton, one song left the deepest impression on me. After winning the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton teamed up with John Jay and James Madison to write the Federalist Papers to promote the ratification of the US Constitution. While they collectively wrote 85 essays, Hamilton wrote 51 by himself. It prompted Miranda to write the song “Non-Stop,” with the following lyrics.

He’s out of time
How do you write like you're running out of time? 
Write day and night like you're running out of time? 
Every day you fight, like you're running out of time

How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write every second you're alive?

Every second you're alive? Every second you're alive?

These words are inspirational, but they’re just words. You won’t understand why Alexander Hamilton was so motivated unless and until you really put time into perspective.

I once came across a life calendar called A 90-Year Human Life in Months, with each circle representing a month in our lifetime. What’s shocking is how few circles it seems. Thirty days, a circle is gone for good. You can never have it back. It really shows you how little time we have in life.

Time is the most important yet the rarest resource on earth. It is also more or less equal for most people. But one thing is for sure, it simply doesn’t stop. You can use it however you want, it doesn’t stop for you, it doesn’t wait for you.

In Cancún, I was keenly aware that we only had seven days. Every day and hour that passed by, we tried to spend it on activities we deemed fun and meaningful. But no matter how much we didn’t want the vacation to end, it ended when it ended, in seven days.

In the most optimistic scenario, almost half of my circles are gone. And they will keep disappearing regardless of what I do (or not do). No matter how many circles I still have left, you bet I am going to spend them on meaningful things.

Right now, the most meaningful activity for me, ironically, is writing, just like Alexander Hamilton. I am writing a blog teaching people, however few, to invest their money and time into things they love. No, it is not in the same universe as the Federalist Papers when it comes to the importance to the world. But when it comes to wanting to make a better world, it means everything to me. I don’t know where this will lead. I might get tired, frustrated, and even occasionally lost, but I ain’t gonna stop.

Because I am running out of time.

Now, share with me, how many circles in life have you spent so far? And what’s your plan for the rest? Or you just want to say happy birthday, I would love that too!