Super Cities №32 — Don’t Make Life Short

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

“So it is — the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.” — Seneca


Seneca was born BC but died AD. A Roman philosopher, Seneca became one of the most influential stoic thinkers and writers. He continues to have considerable influence over well known, highly successful people.

I have a smart friend who wanted to be a fireman. But as a result of family pressure, he became a doctor. He hates his job because he regrets his path.

Think about that.

He has spent 15+ years learning (important, highly valuable) skills for a job that he never wanted and now hates. Additionally, he is more than three hundred thousand dollars in debt. He will be paying this off for decades.

Like most of us, my friend has made his life short. Every day is a struggle because every day for him is, as Seneca defines it, wasteful. My friend could apply his considerable talents to anything — building a company, running into burning buildings to help people, coding the human genome — but rather spends it on what he considers un-inspiring work. It’s a low-level human tragedy.

Ask yourself a question: if you had total freedom of time and focus, would you work on the same things as you currently do?

The answer is probably not. You would do something else.

But because you have spent so much time and energy on your current thing — sunk costs — you end up staying where you are, thus making life short.

Jeff Bezos took a different path — toward a long life:

“I knew when I was eighty that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time,” he says in “The Everything Store,” a biography by Brad Stone. “That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re eighty years old.
“At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way … it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”

As Seneca says, “Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

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