Where did the time go?
I’m back from a trip to my grandparents and grateful I could see them. But what a strange feeling to say goodbye when you don’t know whether you will see someone again. This visit had the distinct and somber undertones of a farewell.
I tried a little podcast-style experiment, taping some of the conversation with a digital recorder. This was inspired by Liberty who does something like this with his children. I thought it was a great idea and wish I had tried this earlier. A lot of stories came up, especially from the last days of the war (when my grandparents on my father’s side were still children) and the struggles of the post-war years. It made me realize how much gets lost, how much richer our collective memory could be if we had more oral history.
My grandparents on my mother’s side both passed away years ago. In an amazing coincidence, someone in their hometown recently found a stack of letters in tucked away in an attic. The bundle contained years of correspondence from my grandfather and his brother during their deployment on the Eastern Front of WW2. My grandfather served as a driver in a supply unit. His division was encircled and destroyed in Belarus in 1944 with few survivors. The last weeks of the war he spent hiding in a swamp close to his hometown (the family owned part of a peat excavation site and my great grandfather operated a little zoo with snakes and other animals). His brother went missing shortly before Germany’s capitulation. It is believed he was killed in action.
I missed the chance to ask my grandfather about any of this when he was still alive. He was old and hard of hearing already. It was not easy for him to communicate. I would give a lot for a recording of the times that he shared his story with others.
This is a piece of history I’ve always struggled with. What do you do on Veteran’s Day if your family was on the wrong side of history?
As I mentioned, on my father’s side both grandparents were still children when the war ended. They spent the final days cowering in cellars and ditches, waiting for artillery fire to end as the British troops approached. I know they are grateful that their own children and grandchildren grew up in peace.
On the train ride back, I was reminded of an old Waitbutwhy post called ‘the tail end’ that visualized how little time remains with our parents:
“…despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life. If I lay out the total days I’ll ever spend with each of my parents—assuming I’m as lucky as can be—this becomes starkly clear. It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
There is another concept worth considering. Graham Duncan’s framework that young people are time billionaires:
“I see, sometimes, 20-year-olds – the thought I had was they probably have two billion seconds left. But they aren’t relating to themselves as time billionaires. And I was thinking about how if you could – what would Rupert Murdoch, who’s worth $20 billion – he’s 87 years old. What would he pay if he could take the next five years of someone’s 20-year-old healthy body, mind, etc.? And for that 20-year-old, how would they price it? Because I was thinking at various points of my career, I might have sold the next five years for something.”
I recently tweeted about Bill Miller, a fascinating money manager whose long career remains overshadowed by his fatal doubling down on financials in 2008.
"The scarce resource is not money," he says. "It's time. The question is, What's the economic value of your time?"
Having money is good - it “solves your money problems.” But without time, that money means nothing. Putting a value on time is difficult since we don’t know how much remains. And our perception of time gets warped. Fresh out of college I believed I had all the time in the world. There seemed to be an endless ocean of tomorrows to do the things I wanted.
Now I feel restless and behind the curve. As we lapsed the outbreak of COVID I felt an onset of panic. All the lockdown weeks seemed to blend together. A year has passed? Where did it all go?
I try to tackle this unease with walks in nature, meditation, writing. Sometimes it even works. However much time remains, I have folders full of drafts and notes and am excited about the future. I hope you are, too.
Some weekend reading
Shoutout to the Khosrowshahi family who conquered the tech world after fleeing the Iranian revolution.
Profile of Jeff Vinik who took over from Peter Lynch and seemed like the opposite in many respects: focused on quarterly earnings and unafraid to time the market.
Gaining an edge by reading the tells of another player: Andre Agassi and Boris Becker. “The hardest part wasn't returning his serve. The hardest part was not letting him know that I knew this. I had to resist the temptation of reading his serve for the majority of the match and choose the moments when I was going to use that information.”
Example of using LinkedIn for scuttlebutt research on the competitive position of a software company (Splunk)
Love this new meme😂