A Better 7%
How many more Super Bowls will you watch before you die?
Tim Urban, the author of the excellent Wait But Why, considered this question in his 2015 post “The Tail End.”
In addition to measuring his remaining time in days, weeks, and months, Urban also measured time by the number of events he was yet to experience.
Assuming he lived until he was 90 — Urban was 34 when he wrote the piece — he estimated that he would read 300 more books, vote in 15 more presidential elections, and attend 20 more Red Sox games before passing away.
It wasn’t Urban’s estimation of how many sporting events he might attend before he dies that caught my attention, though. It was his analysis of how many times he would see his family again.
He figured that he visits his hometown five times a year, giving him about 300 days left to see his parents in-person.
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end,” he wrote.
One of Urban’s conclusions is that physical proximity to family matters — if you want to spend more time with people, you need to live near them.
Army families, though, aren’t afforded that luxury. In addition to moving wherever in the world the Army deems appropriate, our extended families compete with deployments and training exercises for our time. We’re lucky if we travel home four times a year.
My wife and I didn’t know the exact breakdown of the time we had left with those we love most, but we always had a sense of it. It’s why, after I received the email that I would be stationed in South Korea for two years, we both cried. We knew it would mean two years subtracted from the quality-time ledger.
But it’s not just the time remaining with our families that we should consider.
If we spend 93% of the time with our parents by the time we’re 18, then the corollary must be true — we spend 93% of our time with our kids by the time they’re 18.
And just as my parents compete with deployments and training exercises for my time, so do my children.
As Jeremy Walter pointed out in his Calibrating Capital post “Enough,” we are so busy trying to make something of ourselves that we miss out on the most critical years with our kids.
“We spend our 30s/40s working hard, grinding, and GROWING and then spend our 40s/50s easing off. But it’s during that first stage where our kids are so impressionable, and when they actually want to hang out with us. The second stage they might be out of the house, or at least teenagers who are too cool to want to hang out with their lame parents.”
What’s the point of having it all if we spend that precious 93% obtaining it?
It’s not as depressing as it might seem, though. That 7% is a much better 7% than ever before. Exponentially better, in fact.
Video communications applications such as Zoom and Apple’s FaceTime have bridged the presence gap — considered science fiction just a generation ago. While nothing can replicate physical presence, face-to-face digital communication is a damn fine alternative.
I should know. I watched my daughter’s birth from my iPad while sitting in an MWR tent in Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
50 years ago, I would have received a telegram announcing the birth. I can only imagine what technology will be available 50 years from now. (Teleportation? Please! I’ll never ask for another thing again.)
So now that we’re conscious of our reality, what should we do? Urban’s last conclusion seems fitting.
“If you’re in your last 10% of time with someone you love, keep that fact in the front of your mind when you’re with them and treat that time as what it actually is: precious.”
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The views expressed are those of Brennan Randel and do not reflect the official position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or any government agency.