The Tail End
It’s hard to believe that I had a kid when I was 20 years old. I hardly knew what I was getting into – it was really a split-second decision on a Thursday morning. I said “yes” when I could have said “no,” and it changed the entire trajectory of my life. Nearly 28 years later, this notion of “parenting” is still a bit of a mystery to me. It now involves a lot of head nodding and listening, and affirming. At this stage of the game, you’ve accepted that your opinion is just that – an opinion. And it is much better when an opinion is invited to a party. Yet it rarely is.
Had I benefited from being a parent on a more conventional timeline, I might have understood this a bit better. But really, it’s all a crapshoot. Compared to my peers, it seems like I am a decade and some change ahead of schedule in some areas, but just getting started in others. It’s only been in the last few years, I’ve asked myself the questions a typical 20-year-old asks about life. I wasn’t really opining about my hopes and dreams during those sleepless hours as a young parent.
A few days ago, I came across Tim Urban’s 2015 blog post called “The Tail End.” It’s a quick read. He breaks down the lifespan of a 90-year old visually, using different metrics related to his own life. I especially like the visual of how many dumplings Tim will eat in his remaining days. If I ever heard a reason to keep living, that might be it. On the other hand, I could care less about how many super world sports ball series games will be left in anyone’s future. Sorry, sports ball fans.
What feels especially poignant is the visual around how much time Tim estimates he has left with his parents. Based on his modeling, Urban states, “…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.”
Below you’ll find the very last section of an infographic showing how many in-person days Tim has left with his parents relative to the days that remain:
It’s really worth seeing the graphic in its entirety.
My own parents are deceased, but I’ve thought a lot about this image relative to all the other meaningful relationships in my life. It’s sobering to calculate how fleeting time really is. I started estimating how many in-person days I have left with my kid, and it really put my time with them into perspective. Now that I live in Portland, we see each other around 21 days a year, max. At the current burn rate it means we will spend a scant 918 days together over the next 42 years. For reference, we spent about 6,000+ days together between birth and 18.
This makes me want to savor it. All of it. Anything that doesn’t fall into the “fun and meaningful” camp feels small and unimportant with this in mind.
You realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.Tim Urban
Ultimately, the purpose of this exercise is to think about how to prioritize the time we have left – which is what I’ve been spending a lot of time doing on my sabbatical. Thankfully, I’m not alone. There’s a lot of this happening in my circle of 35 to 55-year-olds friends right now. In the past year, I have friends who retired early. Friends who picked up and moved. Friends who decided to get a divorce. Friends who are down-shifting their careers. Friends who are now empty nesters. Witnessing people assess and choose what matters – no matter how disruptive or scary it may be in the short-term – is remarkable and inspiring.
My life is unconventionally nonlinear, which sometimes messes with my head. More often, it makes me brim with excitement and opportunity. I feel as though I am still 20 years old (though my body may have differing opinions on the matter) and I approach the world with some of the same sensibilities. I just keep saying “yes” when I could say “no” … as if there still is time. I hope this never changes.
Twenty years ago may have been the best day to make a big life decision, but today is good day too.
This is what 37.75 out of 90 years looks like.
I hope we all make it to a long tail-end.
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