Time and Priorities

Puter of the Gormogons has a thoughtful piece on how one spends one’s hours, minutes and seconds of remaining life.

It’s a good article, don’t get me wrong. But it also made me angry. This, in particular:

One Percenter got a far away look in his eyes and stated that occasionally he will stand in his window and watch his plow contractor, wishing he had the time to clear his own driveway. And to cut his own lawn

This made me mad because Mr One Percenter Hedge Fund Guy has the time. He absolutely, 100% has all the time he wants to pursue whatever he wants. It’s a luxury that most people on Earth will never have. But instead, he hides behind excuses.

That’s what makes me mad. Mr. One Percenter has the time, but he chooses not to use it. He says he wishes he had time to mow the lawn, but, in all frankness, he’s lying to himself, lying to Puter, lying to the universe. What he’s really saying is “I wish mowing the lawn was a bigger priority for me”.

You see the trick I pulled there? I turned the statement from one about the uncontrollable physics of the clock, and made it a statement about free will. Can you imagine? A One-Percenter-Hedge-Fund-Guy who can’t muster enough free will to mow the lawn? Isn’t that (when you really think about it) kind of pathetic?

But, really, I’m being unfair as well, at least a little. I’m sure Mr. One-Percenter knows (to some degree) that he could mow the lawn, if he really wanted to. So, the real question is, why doesn’t he? My guess (and this is only a guess) is fear.

Mr. One Percenter, having conquered the world of high finance, is afraid of losing his position of power. He’s afraid of losing his status, the deference that others show to him. He’s afraid that his current pile of millions won’t be enough, that without access to ever-expanding piles of money, he’ll never be _safe_. So he keeps running on this treadmill, hanging out with people who act like his friends (but would sell him to kidnappers for a dollar if they could), enjoying his fancy cars, and fancy house, and the way the salespeople are so obsequious.

And he says to himself (I’m guessing) “I have to keep going, or I’ll be a nobody.”

Yes. A nobody… with millions of dollars in the bank.

Bill Gates spends his money fighting disease in Africa. James Cameron builds submarines and dives into the depths of the ocean. Richard Branson builds spaceships. Jeff Bezos funds 10,000 year clocks and spaceships of his own.

“Oh, well, those guys are super-rich. I can’t compete with that”. I hear you cry.


John Carmack (one of the developers of Doom and Quake and other games) builds spaceships. He made millions, not billions. A guy who owned a dry cleaner in New Jersey spends his days dressed up as Batman, handing out toys to cancer-stricken children.

And Mr. One-Percenter thinks he’s trapped, unable to find time to mow his lawn. What he’s really saying (I suspect) is “I’d rather be high-status and stressed out of my mind, than slightly-lower-status and relaxed.”

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. One Percenter has made a lot of bad decisions, and is living paycheck-to-paycheck. Maybe he will go bankrupt if he walks away from the job and hours and the stress. But somehow, I doubt it. Somehow, I suspect that what he really is is a slave to the little voice in the back of his head whispering “more, more, more”.

A moment’s courage, and he could walk away. He cash out, settle his debts, and live better than any king of old, probably without even eating into the principal of his accumulated wealth. He could feed the hungry, clothe the poor, touch the hearts of scared and suffering children. He could mow his lawn, build a shed, write a novel, travel to the 5 most dangerous places on Earth. He could do all the things that the vast majority of us will only ever get to do one of.

A moment’s courage, a promise whispered to himself: “I know that lowering my status is scary, but every single book, every single study ever written on this topic tells me that I’ll adapt to it far more easily than I expect.”

And he would be free.


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