Imagine you wake up in the middle of the night and see a small, strange being standing at the foot of your bed. Your spouse is sound asleep, and you are not sure if this being is an angel or a devil. At first, you think you must be dreaming, but then the being starts to speak.
He tells you that he was sent from beyond, and he is here to give you the deal of a lifetime. He has the capacity to give you enough money to fully fund your children’s education, build the beach home you have always dreamed of, and allow you to travel in luxury for the rest of your life. If you agree to his deal, he will deposit the money in your bank account immediately, and best of all, it will be completely legal and tax-free. Your mind immediately starts to race, thinking of all you will do with this unexpected windfall.
You tell him this sounds great, but ask what he wants in return. He acknowledges he does want something, but says it is something you don’t seem to value. What he wants is some of your time. He has been observing you, and has noticed that you spend a lot of your time doing things you don’t find fulfilling, meaningful or fun. He notices that you spend about four and a half hours a day watching TV, which turns out to be the national average. Like many Americans, you rarely exercise and eat lots of junk food, both of which contribute to a shorter lifespan. While you often complain about your job, you never take any steps either to improve your situation at work or to find a new opportunity. And, although you care deeply about your family, you often seem to take them for granted and focus on other things that appear to be urgent but are really not very important to you.
He smiles as you acknowledge these behaviors with a nod, and then he explains the deal. He tells you he knows exactly when you are going to die. He isn’t going to share that information with you because that would be cruel. He also knows how many sick days you will have between now and the day you die. He won’t share that information with you, either. Since he knows when you will die and he knows how many sick days you have left, he also knows exactly how many healthy days you have left.
This small being wants to buy some of your healthy days. For each healthy day you are willing to sell him, he will give you $3,000 tax-free. If you sell him ten healthy days, you would get $30,000, but you would die ten days earlier having forgone those days when you feel the best physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you sell him 100 days, you would receive $300,000. You do some quick math and realize that if you were to sell him five years, you would get more than $5,000,000.
You ask him how many healthy days you have left. He refuses to answer, and reminds you that he’s not being coy – nobody knows how many tomorrows they have left. You ask him what happens if you want to sell more healthy days than you have left. He says he will pay you the money for the healthy days you have, and you will wake up tomorrow sick and will die soon thereafter.
So, that’s the deal you’ve been offered. No tricks, no gimmicks. How many healthy days would you be willing to sell him?
When you think about selling any of your healthy days, do you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? I know I do. How big a difference would the extra money make in your life? If you think you would want to sell some of your days, how do you imagine you might feel later, when you are sick or dying? Would you want to buy them back? What price might you be willing to pay for them then?
We often act as if money is our most precious resource. We will spend our time doing things we don’t enjoy to earn a little more money or save a little. We focus our efforts on what we perceive to be our most profitable opportunities, instead of focusing on those that will bring us the most joy and satisfaction. The truth is that for virtually all of us, time is our most precious resource, and time is a unique resource because it can never be renewed. Each of us has only one life to live, and no matter what we think will happen, the truth is that none of us know how much time – how many healthy days – we have left.
Viewed through this lens, we can see each day as a precious commodity not to be wasted or taken for granted. We can then decide to make changes, to focus our time on things that bring us greater happiness: our most important relationships, our ability to engage in meaningful activities, and making a positive difference in the lives of others. When we do that, regardless of how many dollars we have in our bank account, we will be on the way to building a life worth living.