In 2019, Graham Duncan, the cofounder of East Rock Capital, appeared on an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show.
During the conversation, Duncan proposed a concept that changed my life: the Time Billionaire.
A million seconds is 11 days. A billion seconds is slightly over 31 years. . . . I feel like in our culture, we’re so obsessed, as a culture, with money. And we deify dollar billionaires in a way. . . . And I was thinking of time billionaires that when I see, sometimes, 20-year-olds—the thought I had was they probably have two billion seconds left. But they aren’t relating to themselves as time billionaires.
The central point: time is our most precious asset.
When you’re young, you are literally rich with time. At age 20, you probably have about two billion seconds left (assuming you live to 80). I’m 31, and have (hopefully) 1.5 billion seconds to go. By 50, just one billion seconds remain.
But as Graham Duncan pointed out, we don’t relate to ourselves as the “Time Billionaires” we really are. Most of us fail to realize the value of this asset until it is gone.
In his On the Shortness of Life, the stoic philosopher Seneca says, “We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.”
To me, being a Time Billionaire isn’t necessarily about having the actual time, but about the awareness of the precious nature of the time you do have. It is about embracing the shortness of life and finding joy in ordinary daily moments of beauty.
As you fill in the weeks, it creates a very clear reminder of the time passed—and time remaining.
I started thinking about this more with the birth of my son in May 2022. It’s scary to look at the data on the short time we get with our children. It peaks in our 30s and declines sharply thereafter.
The “Magic Years” will fly by if you let them.
Be present in every moment. Slow down and embrace the sweetness.
Time with our parents and siblings is no better. It peaks in childhood and declines after age 20.
Time with family is limited.
Time with parents declines sharply after age 20.
We have to prioritize and cherish every moment.
Diminishing time with family and children is replaced by more time alone. It steadily increases throughout your life.
Flex your boredom muscle.
Find joy in the time you have to yourself—there will be a whole lot of it as you get older.
Last summer I was on a walk with my newborn son and an older man approached me. He said: “I remember standing here with my newborn daughter. An old man came up to me and said ‘It goes by fast, cherish it.’ Well, my daughter is 45 now. It goes by fast, cherish it.”
It hit me hard.
The next morning, I had my son in bed and felt a profound sensation: for the first time in my life, I had enough.
As ambitious people, we spend most of our lives playing a game: everything we do is in anticipation of a future. When it comes, we just reset to the next one:
“I can’t wait until I’m 18 so I can [X].”
“I can’t wait until I’m 25 so I can [Y].”
“I can’t wait until I’m 45 so I can [Z].”
It’s natural, but it’s a dangerous game—one that we will lose. . . eventually.
We waste a lot of energy on the past and future when the present is all that’s guaranteed. We push for more—but really, we need to find our enough.
Never let the quest for more distract you from the beauty of enough.
To be sure, there are no right answers here. No one can tell you what to think about time. I’m just trying to provide insights on how to think about time. All of life’s most important journeys start with asking the right questions.
Perhaps just reading this article is a good place to start.
A simple closing reminder: treat time as your ultimate currency—it’s all you have and you can never get it back. Spend it wisely, with those you love, in ways you’ll never regret.
P.S. My son is about to turn one and I can’t believe it. As the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.” Sending love from me and mine to you and yours!
And if you’re hungry for more commentary that makes you think, become a Free Press subscriber today: