A Sideways View

New stirrings in business psychology

The Fragility of Life

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Use your "time left" well.

It was always fun to calculate the age of man’s best friend in “dog years”. Multiply the dog’s age by 7 and you get it. So a 6 year old hound should be well into a mid-life crisis and a 9 year old looking forward to a pension.

We are now told that this is rather too crude and there is a rubric which is a little more sophisticated: you multiple 10.5 for the first two years and then by 4 for the years thereafter. So a 3 year old mutt is 25 years old and a 5 year old a frisky 33 year old.

For cat lovers there is a different formula according to some sources. So 2 human years equals 24 cat years and 10 human years are 60 cat years. A 16 human-year old cat is 84....and possibly soon for the great cattery in the sky. Presumably you can do the same with all animals.

Churchill once famously remarked that “ I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us; Cats look down on us. Pigs see us as equals.” Yet as few of us keep the latter as pets, there seems to be far less interest in the human vs porcine years of your friendly porker.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

For those interested in these things the web offers you a number of options about your time left; a comfortable euphemism meaning how long before you die. A variety of actuarial type calculators on the web attempt to predict that date that no man knows...the date of their death. All you do is enter some crude statistics: date of birth, alcohol and nicotine consumption, body mass index, your outlook on life and the country where you live. Press the button, and horrifically a day is specified......the day you will die. Worse, some tell you how many years, months, days, hours and seconds you have left. Sobering to say the least.

But there is some good news! First, these things are very unreliable: try doing three on offer and you will find they make very different predictions. Second, what about all those miracle advances in medical science which will prolong life and happiness considerably. Science will extend your life, adding a decade at least. Third, what about great uncle Arthur, who drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney, lived on bread and lard and died (very happily) in his sleep aged 94.

There are those who really can’t abide this morbid, quasi-epidemiological, forecasting. But is that denial and a refusal to confront one’s mortality?

Yet reflectiveness does sell. In the recently published book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware a palliative care nurse, noted the common themes from the many people she saw die. The first was about the many unfulfilled dreams that they had and now could not fulfil. The second was that they spent too much time at work and not enough with family and friends. Third, it was that they never fully expressed their feelings, and carried the burden of bitterness for too long. Fourth, it was that they lost touch with too many of their friends, though Facebook, Linked-in and the rest should help that particular problem. And finally, fifth, the realisation that happiness is a choice they did not always make.

Life is not a dress-rehearsal. Get on with it. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. But could this be a topic useful for a business seminar?

In the business training world there are various techniques design to promote a bit of temporal introspection. One is to write your obituary: summarise what you achieved in 600 words. Another has taken root and it goes like this. It is based on days of the week. You have to assume that a day’s worth of time is 12 years and that we were all born the first second on a Monday. By the end of that day we are 12 years old, and by the end of Tuesday 24. So calculate what day of the week you are. If you are 42 you are half-way through Thursday and if 59 it is very late on Friday. Sunday midnight is game over, unless you are lucky enough to have a bank holiday bonus.

The 12 year bracket allows for enough discretion as to one’s real age, though one suspects there are bound to be a few porkies or economies with the truth.

So the course delegates calculate their day. The Friday people might like to meet in a group, to discuss. All rather alarming to see how old these people look, compared to your own youthful appearance, of course. Or perhaps it is better to mix the groups and discuss the possible advantages of mixed aged groups. But how about making three lists? What you will do, in the time remaining, for yourself and family, for your organisation and for your community. This lifts the spirit a little because it focuses on what to do rather than to simply sit there and mutter about so little time left. It also requires you to look beyond yourself, to think of others.

And after this morbid session of philosophising in the office, you can go home to depress the dog and commiserate with the cat.

 

 

Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at University College London and the Norwegian Business School.

more...

Subscribe to A Sideways View

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?