Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 3, 2019
“Stop the World: I Want to Get Off.”
An old friend walked into my office and announced that he is retiring. He has spent 30 years in a variety of roles in technology and entrepreneurship. He is just a bit over 60 and is definitely not a billionaire. He has enough. The definition of enough is left to your individual imaginations, but I assure you, no private jet.
All right, I am sort of down with his half-baked, past mid-life crisis, what do you mean retire, what are you going to do all day, are you out of your mind, you can’t do that, statement that he is getting off the conveyor belt rat race. I point out to him that if he jumps off, it will leave a gap and so those of us still conveying will have to step up and fill his vacated space. That’s not fair; you didn’t consult with the rest of us. You just got off. I am somewhere between furious and envious.
So needing guidance, I turned to a new book by Daniel Hamermesh, “Spending Time.” Hamermesh begins by quoting William Penn, the man responsible for founding the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” Hamermesh says he has been thinking about time since he was 4 years old, and his mom got him a watch — no smartwatch, no Fitbit, no GPS, no phone, and to add insult to injury, you had to manually wind it.
“Time is an economic factor and economics is about scarcity,” Hamermesh says. So while our incomes might increase, unfortunately there are still only 24 hours in a day — so you can easily see the trade-off that is looming. The billionaire has no more time in a day than the factory worker. You can’t buy health, and it seems you can’t buy more time either.
What he also finds is that Americans are the champions of the world (a shout-out to Queen) when it comes to work. “Americans work on average eight hours more per week than Germans and six more than the French.” To top it off, we don’t use the vacation time we get — 52 percent of Americans didn’t use all their days in 2017. And in the tech world, I suspect that number is closer to 90 percent.
Hamermesh claims that “technology has made life better, but it hasn’t saved us much time.” I think that statement might be true in the macro, but it is definitely a bit gender-biased. There have been more than a few petabytes written about the disparity of roles of husband and wife, and their balancing act of career and family. He says women “feel more rushed than men and are more stressed about it.” (Duh, tell me if a robot can change a diaper?)
He points out that Americans work more at night than anybody else. If you need to work two jobs to make ends meet, what other time is there? In the end Hamermesh argues that the rat race and the battle to get ahead (what is enough and how far ahead you have to get is grist for another mill) can only be changed by a government mandate to increase vacation time. I think that is naïve and unrealistic. But he makes the case that it is mostly the rich who are the ones complaining about wanting more time even though they have the most control of their time.
Finally, Hamermesh asks the hard question about time in a marriage, “What do we mean by being together?” If we have more time, do we spend it with our mate or do we run around seeking even “more?”
Hamermesh says retired Americans spend too much time sleeping and watching TV. That will not happen to my friend. He will explore. But I left him with a suggestion to keep a diary and write a couple of sentences at the end of each day. And then over time, go back and read them. It will be deeply informative. I confessed that over 30 plus years of psychotherapy I have collected numerous yellow pads on which I took notes. However, I am not planning on ever looking at them until I get to the next life.
Rule No. 612
Tempus fugit. But not without going through the TSA.