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When Time Slows Down


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I was talking to someone recently and she made a comment about how her kids had such a different sense of time – that asking them to wait five minutes was really difficult, that the idea of something happening next week was a really long time, and that waiting for a future event that was a month or a year away was like an eternity.

We wondered: Is this because they have such a short time frame for reference? A year to a 9-year-old is 1/9th of her life. Or is it just because they are so in-the-present?

This conversation reminded me of the time after my husband died five years ago. The idea of living the rest of my life without him was too huge and too horrible to contemplate, so I focused on today. Right now. Putting one foot in front of the other. These 24 hours. One day at a time. I can do Now, I thought. And I did. I could think about tomorrow, but the coming weekend was a stretch. When my mother asked in the autumn if I was coming to Seattle for Christmas, I had to explain that I literally could not think that far in the future.

Did I become child-like for that period?

As I healed, I was conscious of times when I was able to schedule something for the weekend, plan a pot-luck a month in advance, think about a trip to Seattle for my newest nephew’s christening.

In his terrific essay, “What Startups Are Really Like,” Paul Graham (www.paulgraham.com) writes about what founders of startups reported that most surprised them about the process. In Surprise #2, “Startups Take Over Your Life,” one writes, “I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how one’s perspective on time shifts. Working on our startup, I remember time seeming to stretch out, so that a month was a huge interval.” Paul attributes this to the fast pace of life in a startup, “which makes it seem like time slows down.”

As we move faster, does time slow down? The theory of relativity tells us that the closer to the speed of light an object travels, the more time slows down for it so that an astronaut who returns to earth after a long trip at the speed of light will have aged more slowly than his twin brother who remained on Earth.

Does life seem fast-paced to children? Is that why time moves so slowly for them? Do we move more slowly as we age, so that it seems to pass more quickly?

Are entrepreneurs like children? Non-entrepreneurs might glibly say Yes, but I’m serious here. Is there a child-like quality that entrepreneurs share with children related to how they perceive life?

When people are faced with changes that they have to get used to, and there is newness, and the world shifts, how does this affect how they perceive time? Are they dropped back to a child-like state until they can grow into the change? Does consciously fostering a child-like sense of wonder make coping with change any easier?

These make for interesting considerations for those of us who are change agents – considerations about how those impacted by changes perceive time and about how they react. What do you think?

Please leave a comment by clicking on this post’s title.

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4 Responses to When Time Slows Down

  1. Elham May 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Susan,
    This is such a wonderful Blog. It did get me thinking which really stimulates my brain. So thank you for writing your thoughts. Having that said, considering your example of your experience after your husband passed away, I don’t think it’s about being a child, or aging, or becoming an entrepreneur. It’s about perspective and how we lose perspective of the moment as we grow old and are trained to plan and prepare. When you have less time, you lack the luxury of preparation and planning. Therefore you end up living in the moment. Doing the work, taking the risk, and locking perspective in the moment in order to make the most of your time. I believe we are all naturally created to live in the moment, hence children taking more risk and not thinking about consequences of falling for example. But as we use our brain and see the benefits of planning and lowering risks, we end up training ourselves to think different. Eventually we forget how to live in the moment. Our minutes become hours, hours become days, days become years and before we know it, we’ve lost the opportunity to just take risks and live. We’ve been so busy planning that we missed out on the only chance we have in the journey of our life adventure. We’ve simply lived and not taken advantage of the excitement of living. Those are the days that we wish we were kids :).

  2. Pete May 22, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    My perception of time has always correlated (roughly) with anticipation. When I’m looking ahead to something pleasurable, time crawls. When anticipating surgery, for example, it flies. In this regard children seem to look eagerly to future events (the ultimate entrepreneurs?), while older folks live more in the past.

    By the way–nice blog.

  3. Susan May 22, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Pete, thanks for the comment and the feedback!

  4. Susan May 22, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Elham, I’m glad to know this stimulated your brain, and I hope you’ll keep coming back for more!

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