Are you living, or Just Existing?

Ever since I did the post about The Cost of Holding a Job, I’ve been thinking about life. When people say they have been thinking about their life they usually refer to what they want to do in life. They might want to spend life perusing a career, having a family, or travelling, or just doing leisure activities they enjoy. And I can understand why. I think about all these things too.

But that is not what I have been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about how much time in your life is actually yours. I mean the time that is really yours. The amount of time you have to do the things you want to do. The amount of time that you have to live to your fullest potential.

Are you living, or just existing?

If you live in New Zealand, you have about an average of 82 years on this blue planet we call earth. So we are already fortunate there. In other parts of the world, lifespans can be as low as 50 years.

Consider yourself lucky!

The thing is, you don’t get 82 years of freedom. You don’t get to do what you want. You, me, and everyone else has responsibilities that we can’t ignore. Even if you have succeeded in becoming financially independent you still can’t ignore your own body.

Let’s examine how many years of freedom an average individual in New Zealand might have. Starting off with the average lifespan of 82 years.

82 years of freedom

Firstly, you will need to sleep. On average, you will need about 8 hours per night of sleep. One-third of your life will be devoted to sleep. That adds up to a total of around 27 years of sleeping. This massively cuts into the amount of freedom you have.

55 years of freedom

It doesn’t stop with sleep though. In New Zealand, you are going to have to go to school for at least 10 years. 6 hours a day, five days a week, for 40 weeks of the year. That is a total of 12,000 hours spent inside a school building. Minimum. Then you also have to factor in the time it takes to get to and from school.

On top of that, there is homework and extracurricular activities. Basically, the entire period of time from when you are born until you are 16 years old are not truly fee. I mean, you are still a kid at this stage, so what freedom do you really have?

39 years of freedom

Then if you go down the university route you will need to finish the final two years non-mandatory years of school before attending. A full-time bachelors degree will take you at least 3 years to complete. Each year will involve two 12 week semesters. Let’s assume you study 10 hours every day. That’s probably not the true time a student spends at university by hey, work with me here.

The total time in hours it takes to finish the last two years of high school and a university bachelors degree is 6400 hours. Bringing the new total years of freedom is down to 38

38 years of freedom

You can’t let your schooling and money spent on getting a degree go to waste. So you end up perusing a career in a field related to your degree.

The average workweek in New Zealand is around 37 hours, But you are career-focused and work a full 40 hour work week, 5 days a week, with annual leave of 4 weeks.

Typically, people will work from around their mid-twenties to the retirement age of 65. That’s a working lifespan of around 40 years.

40 years * 48 weeks * 40 hours = 76,800 hours

That is about 9 years of your life working.

29 years of freedom

But you need to get to work first.

The average commuting time estimate by the year New Zealand Household Travel Survey is 20 minutes each way. If we assume a commute time of an hour a day, that’s another whole year spent just commuting

28 years of freedom

All this time spent at work and studying can really make a person hungry, so you should probably spend some time eating. Otherwise, you know, you’ll die! On an average day, we spend about 70 minutes just eating food to survive.

Ignoring the years until you are 16, because, well what freedoms do you really have when you are younger than 16, you will spend 28,000 hours just eating. A whole 3 years of just eating.

25 years of freedom

Oh, but you are not finished there. Once you have finished eating you also have to spend time cleaning up after yourself and doing household chores. You probably should shower and do laundry. That is another 24,000 hours gone. This brings your total freedom years down to 22 years.

22 years of freedom

We’ll just gloss over the time it takes for all this food and drinks to move its way through your body.

Then, of course, there is the time we use to unwind from our stressful jobs, let’s take watching TV as an example. In America, the average person watches 4 hours of TV a day. How is that even possible! In New Zealand, we are not that far behind, watching an average of 3.2 hours of TV per day. That is 77,000 hours or 9 years.

13 years of freedom

And we can’t forget about other screen time, including phones, tablets, computers, and gaming consoles. You could be on the phone or reading an ebook during this time. But I think the majority of this time is probably spent on social media. Kiwis average around 18 hours a week getting their digital fix. That’s 6 years on your phone.

6 years of freedom

Once you hit the retirement age of 65, you’ll have loads of free time right? assuming you will have enough money to retire that is. Many people in their later years will spend significant time in health care facilities, or living with a disability. Besides getting sick in your old ages, you might also get sick when you are younger. These years are not really years of freedom.

It’s hard to find good statistics on the average hospital say, or time being sick. But over a lifetime it’s not hard to imagine you might spend 2 years being sick or disabled in some way. I mean you spend 8 years just watching TV, and 3 years just eating.

4 years of freedom

In total, you may only have 4 years of your 82-year life to really and truly do what you want.

When you are young you spend your first 16 years in the presence of your parents and at school. Then you go to university and spend your time studying. Then you graduate onto full-time work. You will probably continue to work until you are 65. And in all that time you will need to eat, sleep, clean and do chores.

Since we don’t really have that much free time, doesn’t it make sense to spend more time with the people we have important relationships with? Take your parents, for example, you will have already spent 95% of the entire time you will ever spend with them by the time you are 18. The remaining 5% will be dotted throughout your life around holidays and special events.

Then there is your own happiness. Many people do so many things throughout their life to try and succeed as opposed to doing things that fulfil them and make them happy.

Working 40 years at a job just to make an extra $30,000 a year so that you can afford that nice luxury car that you only drive from your beautifully present home to your work, so that you can do the job you have now come to despise.

It’s all temporary happiness and not genuine happiness.

So What Can You Do About It?

First off, when you are young you need to cherish the time spend with your parents. Enjoy your time at university. It will probably be the best time of your life. So far, it has been for me.

I suspect that if you are reading this you are probably already in your working careers already, so you have missed the boat on that one. So what can you do?

  • Make the most of fostering good work relationships. And if you truly can’t stand your work or work colleges, don’t put up with it. Get another job. Do you really value your time so little that you are happy being miserable 5 days a week?
  • If you enjoy your work and have a long commute, use that time to listen to inspiring and informative podcasts so that you can gain more knowledge or upskill yourself.
  • Be conscious about wasted time. Cut back on phone use and binge-watching TV.
  • You have to eat, so why not make it enjoyable by cooking it yourself. Spend time with your family, kids, or spouse cooking. Use this time to catch up with each other.

Use your time on this planet wisely. Time doesn’t stop for you or anyone. It’s the one thing you cannot get back. If you lose a lot of money, it’s fine. You can always get more. Lose a trusted friend, you can find a new one. But you can never ever get time back.

As cliche as it sounds, your 82-year journey here is very short. Technically it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do, but the universe is 13.8 billion years old. You are but a second in the universe’s clock. So use your time wisely.

I hope this inspires you to look into the possibility of aiming for financial freedom. The whole idea behind financial freedom is to sacrificing time now so that you can have more free time later. More truly free time.

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4 thoughts on “Are you living, or Just Existing?”

  1. Certainly sobering when you lay out the calculations like this! While I have been on my one-year mini-retirement, I know I haven’t always been respecting my limited time of freedom as I could – too many sleep-ins and time on social media! Your post is a good reminder that life is short and there isn’t much time in the scheme of things that is truly our own, so it’s important to value it and be intentional in using it for the most joy. Keep up the good writing.

    • You are right! I used to waste time on social media and other things that just don’t matter. Now I am more intentional with my free time as I know that it’s really limited.


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