Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

86,400 Pennies (Hat Tip to Parag M)

Imagine, if you will, that each day, precisely when you awaken, 86,400 pennies are deposited into your bank account. Every. Single. Day. Each night when you go to sleep whatever is left of that 86,400 pennies is removed from your account; every day you have to find some way to spend 86,400 pennies. What would you do? Would you put it in another account and let it grow slowly over time? Invest it in stocks or some other long-term plan? Get a bigger mortgage or a fancier car and use your pennies to make payments? Or would you perhaps give your pennies away, or even use your pennies for your own daily expenses and therefore buy the freedom to do, or be whatever it is that makes you (or those you love) happiest?

Would you spend a penny for the freedom to use your own time?

Of course many of you knew exactly where this little ditty was going to go as soon as you saw “86,400”, the famous number at the heart of Jim Valvano’s famous ESPY Awards speech as he was dying from cancer. There are 86,400 seconds in each day. No more and no less. You can’t bank them and save them for a rainy day. Each second has precisely the same value in that each sentence can only be filled by that which you choose. Valvano asked “how are you going to spend your 86,400?”

Another way to look at this is to ask what is your time worth to you. We’ve all heard the time-worn trope that “time is money”. Interestingly, the more affluent we become as a society, and the more affluent individuals become, the less time we all seem to have. Odd…ironic…isn’t it? I recently came across new terms: time poverty and time affluence. Interestingly, those at both extremes of the income scale can have either. It is striking that even the wealthiest among us, man and women who can (and do) pay to have all manner of the messy and menial tasks of their lives done by others (lawn, laundry, livery, etc.) find themselves swimming in an anxious and ever-shallower pool of time.

To be sure many of these time-poor individuals who are resource-rich are buying time to be busy at that which made them resource-rich in the first place, and those who are time-wealthy cannot use their time to acquire resources for whatever reason. For most of us, though, we do have some measure of control over how we spend those 86,400 pennies. Sometimes you must put a real number, a real value on your time.

This weekend I attended a meeting of a very special professional group that includes some of my very closest professional friends. It meant time away from my practice, time that produces on average some $1000/hour of revenue when you look at all of my activities (note: this is revenue to the practice that mostly goes to overhead, sadly not income to me!). Our meeting was generously supported by some 16 companies that do business in my space, companies for whom many of us consult. One of our guest speakers pointed out that the government has decreed that consultants in healthcare cannot be paid more than $500/hour (though most make much, much less than that), an arbitrary number when you are talking about a physician who might generate $5000/hour (think neurosurgeon). Still, it is possible to “price” time for almost anyone. Heck, your favorite hospital administrator or health insurance CEO would like you to think that they are a bargain at ~$1500-$3000/hour because they, and they alone are responsible for the aggregate revenue (~$10-$100MM/hour) of their institution!

In reality our time is much less expensive in dollar terms but much more expensive and valuable in, well, life terms. My real responsibilities at this meeting ended around 6:30 Friday evening. But these are my people; this is my professional “tribe”. I chose to spend the evening with them, and they with me. Doing so meant another night at the hotel so I shaved some pennies off of my expenses by booking a flight home the following evening at 8 (the meeting was completely done at noon on Saturday), something I instantly regretted the minute I got on my outbound flight. What did I do about that? I found an earlier flight at 4 and “bought” myself 4 more hours with my darling wife for $50/hour.

A bargain, at least for me.

So why stay at all on Friday night you might ask? Well, everyone around you is also making the exact same kind of decisions about their time. Most of my friends chose to spend Friday night together out to dinner just down the street from our hotel. Not only that but at least a couple of them spent a few of their collective pennies playing a joke on me. I didn’t even notice that all 60 or so of them in the restaurant had gathered around the table where I sat as the waiter brought a “Happy 70th Birthday” cake, complete with candle and a whole restaurant serenading me! The fact that I am 58 and my birthday is in January is irrelevant. My friends spent their “pennies” to make me laugh.

There are 86,400 seconds deposited in your account each day until the day when they’re not. Each one of us gets to decide, at least some of the time, how much each one of those seconds is worth and how we will spend them. Sometimes, like my first 70th Birthday Party, those seconds are the perfect gift.

Each in its own way priceless.



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