Design a Slow Life •
I’ve recently had a few reminders of the differences between a day and a lifetime.
Yesterday, I came across this quote:
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. — Bill Gates
I’ve seen other iterations of this same idea. The general rule of thumb is that people chronically overestimate what they can do in short periods of time (a day, week, month, year) and sell themselves short for the long haul (3 years, 5 years, decades, a lifetime).
One of my favorite blogs of all time is Tim Urban’s Wait But Why. Tim has a clever way of breaking complex things down into simple ideas (and stick figures). Here’s a little taste from his post Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel. He tells the story of Jack.
Jack sees his life as a rich picture depicting an epic story and assumes that the key to his happiness lies in the broad components of the image.
But this is a mistake, because Jack doesn’t live in the picture’s broad strokes, he lives at all times in a single pixel of the image—a single Today.
So while thousands of Jack’s Todays will, to an outsider from far away, begin to look like a complete picture, Jack spends each moment of his actual reality in one unremarkable Today pixel or another. Jack’s error is brushing off his mundane Wednesday and focusing entirely on the big picture, when in fact the mundane Wednesday is the experience of his actual life.
Slow Lifestyle Design
The story of Jack reminds me of a quote by Annie Dillard:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
The average lifespan in the US today is roughly 79 years. That’s 28,835 days. That’s a lot of pixels to color in — day by day. And, that’s all you can do — design one pixel a day.
Let’s say you are 35. That’s over 16,000 blank pixels left to design. Even at 50, you still have over 10,000 days.
The first step is to think about what you want to design on a blank canvas. What’s the vision and purpose you have for your life? Why? If you don’t start with a vision, you’ll probably end up with some highly abstract art. A pixel one day will look different from the next…and from the next…and from the next…
There are many different approaches you can take. If you have a single-minded vision, that’s great. You can use all your remaining pixels to create your one masterpiece. Let’s say you want to buy yourself a couple extra blank canvases. That’s great too. Maybe you want to spend 3,000 pixels designing one and then move onto a new phase in life and spend 8,000 pixels designing the next.
There’s no right or wrong or one way to design a life. You can always finish one canvas, hang it up, and move on to the next one. That’s the beauty of life. Just remember, there are only 24 hours in a day. Try the slow approach by underestimating the day and setting your sights high for the long term.
Based on the average lifespan, how many blank pixels do you have left to design? Any ideas of what you will do with them? Share in the comments!
Also published on Medium.