Even if we knew nothing of Einstein or his work, almost all of us know, nay, have experienced, the relative nature of the passage of time. When you are standing in a queue outside a consulate, waiting for it to open, time seems to stretch like a bungee cord, only without ever bouncing back. Similarly, when we have to take a test or quiz, time seems to practically whiz by, particularly when we are unsure of our answers.
I recall one specific afternoon, driving back from a customer meeting—where I had lost a big order —on which our entire company had bet everything on. What I recall was not having any recollection of the drive back home. I left the customer office in a daze. I might have been on the phone telling our sales guy how the deal was dead and the next thing I recall was walking into the front door of my house. Only when my wife asked, “What’s wrong?” did I realize that I was home. Where did that time go?
And then again there are times when time actually freezes. For me these usually coincide with whenever I manage to put my reasonably large-sized foot in my mouth, in front of customers. However, most of us, both professionals and entrepreneurs, are so caught up with the often urgent and sometimes important tasks and demands that our business makes, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves whether we are spending our time in the best possible manner.
A Year to Live: Stephen Levine; Harper Collins Publishers, 1997.
A year ago (on 24 May) my father passed away. What struck me then was how much he had accomplished in his first 50 years—and how much he had given to others. Yes, he’d lived a full life and while I’d have preferred that he was still here today, it made me reflect on my own. So here poised a little beyond the half-way mark of his living years, I wonder: Can I and others like me do just as well, giving our best and making a difference, however small or big, to the world at large?
Each day, we hurry through our lunch breaks, skipping breakfast many times, sit through late evening overseas conference calls and yet rarely we seem to catch up. Only when our back gives out, a child is unwell or our spouses threaten to walk out on us, do we stop to take stock. A colleague under 50 passes away, another has a heart attack, friends you’ve known a long time are going through a divorce—suddenly we don’t seem to have it all together. And certainly that deal or proposal we’ve been chasing doesn’t seem quite as important.
Stephen Levine, poet and teacher, posed a simple question: “If you had only a year to live what would you do differently?” Unlike HR professionals this wasn’t merely a life goal-planning exercise but a year-long experiment in conscious living that he set out on, living each day as if it were his last. His book A Year to Live sets out to capture his insights, learnings and practical exercises. As a reader eloquently put it, “A Year to Live is the book to read if you don’t want to reach the end of your life with feelings of regret, failure, shame, or loneliness.”
This is a book about living, not dying. It is essentially a self-paced year-long programme to examine and understand your life. A Year to Live is not an easy book to read, but two things make it well worth the effort. One is the fact that it comes with numerous exercises, such as guided medications that allow us to examine our lives and are useful whether we live for another day, year or many decades. The other is that it is not intended to be read linearly but can be dipped in at will, snacked at and interspersed with practice. As a poem in the book points out, “When they tell you you’ve only got a few months to live, it seems like there’s an awful lot to do.” So better read this before time gets away from you.
K. Srikrishna is the executive director of the National Entrepreneurship Network. He writes about issues that business leaders and managers face and books that could help.
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