Posts Tagged experience

Don’t Wish Away Windshield Time

rearview

I used to dream of the day when I’d no longer need to drive my kids around. Now that it’s almost here, I’ve begun to think about what I am losing.

I’m not only losing early-morning wake-ups and late-night pick-ups; I’m also losing precious time with my children. While I maybe didn’t enjoy driving to and from practices, games and sleep-overs, I was with my children, and I had their attention. We were each other’s captive audience for the few minutes we spent on the road together. It’s harder to get those moments now.

My daughter, my youngest, is now learning to drive. Like her older brother, she will soon have a school permit that will allow her to drive to and from school events. No longer will I be with her when she leaves the house for an early-morning practice or waiting for her when the bus drops her off after an evening event. I have to admit, having my son drive himself for the past two years has been tremendously convenient, and that convenience probably blinded me to what I was missing – time to catch up with my kids, to learn about their activities and interests, to meet their friends.

I made the mistake that many people make – I wished away part of the life I was given.

Wishing away life’s activities is mining for fool’s gold. Unfortunately, by the time we realize this, it’s too late. We might get what we were looking for, but we might wish that we had back what it cost us.

Maybe we’re convinced that we can start enjoying life once the mortgage is paid off and the kids are through college, not realizing that we’ll never get back the time we spent wishing and waiting for those things to happen. Maybe we can’t wait until we can quit our jobs and do something we really like, not realizing that the job we don’t like is setting us up for an opportunity we haven’t even imagined yet. Maybe we’re counting days until our child’s sports season is over, not appreciating all that she is learning from participating.

When my kids were young, I remember thinking that it would be so great to have the entire house to myself for even just a little bit of time. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything or anyone except myself. Now, I often find myself alone in my house, wishing that I was still central to my kids’ lives.

Likewise, I rushed through college, thinking that something better was on the other side. Because I was tired of living on little money, I focused on graduating as quickly as I could – cramming as many credit hours as possible into each semester. When I wasn’t in class, I was working so I could afford all of those credit hours. I was only on campus to attend class, never getting involved in extra-curricular activities that can enrich the college experience.

I achieved my goal of graduating from college in four years, without debt and with a teaching job already lined up, but a year later, I was wishing that I was back in college – that I had spread out my experience and took advantage of unique collegiate opportunities. Like driving my kids around, I was too focused on the destination to enjoy the journey.

Life is like that. As the destination begins to fill our windshield, we also start to see more clearly through the rearview mirror. The sooner we can figure this out, the happier we will be.

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Invest in Experience and Profit Now

Lynda and I recently took our children, Patrick and Kelly, to a Bruce Springsteen concert. The tickets weren’t cheap, but I bought them just hours before the concert, at a discount, from a young small business owner who listed them on Craigslist. Lynda and I had seen Springsteen in concert about thirteen years ago when we lived in North Carolina, and we knew that he was not only a special musician, but an incredible entertainer as well. Because they hear his music frequently, the kids had also become fans.

Spending money on something like concert tickets is difficult for someone as frugal as I. When I consider splurging on something like that, I think about the practicality of spending that much money on an evening of entertainment, that I can hear those songs any time I want and that I can probably do something better with the money. I could debate those first two points for hours, but I was off on the last. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t buying just concert tickets; I was buying memories and an opportunity to bond with my family. Looking back at it, I don’t think I’ve ever made a better investment.

We hear about financial investments constantly. In order to ensure a comfortable retirement, we need to invest our money consistently, sacrificing our current wants for future needs. There is little doubt to the wisdom of that advice, but some instant investments – many that don’t involve any money at all – also pay large dividends and should not be overlooked.

Instant investments in experiences greatly enrich our lives. These experiences stimulate our imaginations, renew our optimism and blossom into warm memories. Without them, life can become bland and routine. When we recognize the opportunity to make an instant investment, we should carefully consider it before dismissing it, because many of these opportunities appear only in a brief window of time, and many times, we don’t know how long that window will be open.

A friend’s four-year-old son was diagnosed with a terrible form of cancer, just a few months ago, and he has undergone several treatments since. Seeing a friend facing something as frightening as childhood cancer gives you an entirely different perspective on that window, and makes instant investments in time a priority.

It shouldn’t take a threat to time, like cancer can be, to make us appreciate and invest in it, but we tend to undervalue time and treat it like air, something that will always be there. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” Time is not infinite, though we like to think that it is.

This past weekend, Patrick was attending a classmate’s party, so Lynda and I decided to do something special – we took Kelly out to our favorite restaurant. For the past couple of years, 11-year-old Kelly has told us that she wants to own a restaurant. She has built Lego models of this restaurant, created menus and spent considerable time in our kitchen at home learning to cook and bake. When we host parties, she is involved in the food preparation and serving. We encourage the enthusiasm, and have used it to introduce the concept of entrepreneurialism.

The restaurant was extremely crowded this night, and the food and service fell far short of its usual standards. When handed the bill, my fiscally conservative nature recoiled at what I just spent for the quality of meal I was served. Then, I looked across the table at my daughter’s smile. Her eyes were filled with wonder as she took in the action around her. Just as I wasn’t merely buying tickets for the Bruce Springsteen concert, I wasn’t buying a simple steak. I was cashing in an instant investment.

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