At what price?


Have you ever heard the saying, “Today is so important that you’re exchanging a day of your life for it?” I’m not sure who said it, but it can make you pause to consider whether you are adding or creating value today. Today on The Porch, we focus on a related quote by Henry David Thoreau. He was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian of the 19th century. Needless to say, he was an interesting guy. Nonetheless, let’s look at our quote for today:

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Henry David Thoreau.

Certainly, life was different in the 1800’s. But, this quote is full of wisdom for us today. Here are a few points of perspective from me:

1. We should look at every activity in our life as though it has a price tag connected to it

2. Our lives are a series of exchanges – we exchange time and effort for value (or non-value)

3. We have a limited amount of life to exchange – we do not know when our ability to exchange life will end

The other way at looking at Thoreau’s quote is in terms of return-on-investment (or ROI). In monetary terms, it is easy to use ROI to direct our decisions. However, in terms of life, calculating ROI is much more difficult. As an example, what is the ROI for spending an evening alone with your spouse versus going to a baseball game with your friends? Or, what is the ROI for choosing your child’s soccer game over working an extra two hours on a project not due until next week? In short, we spend our lives making choices about the relative ROI for our activities. So, when you consider it that way, are you making the correct ROI decisions? Do your decisions on how you spend your time typically consider only the short-term gain or do you consider the long-term impact?

When I personally consider Thoreau’s comment on life and time, it makes me consider that the time that I pour into the lives of others has a high ROI versus the time I spend on things. Investing my time on activities that make a difference for others will always trump time spent on other activities. Now, certainly, I don’t always make these choices wisely, but it does make me re-think what I do and how I spend my free time. My personal goal for every day is to, in some way, add value to someone else’s life… do something that might turn a bad day into a good day for someone. In my world, I think this exchange is always worth the price of time that I pay. How about you?

Perhaps, this could be your very best day yet! You just never know.

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