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The Inescapable Speed of Life - Part Two

(Continued from The Inescapable Speed of Life)

Notice that this is not a conscious process. Nobody involved has the goal of rushing faster and faster or working more and more hours. But that doesn't matter--it happens whether or not we plan it to or expect this result.

Let's step back now and look at this from another perspective, which is one I refer to as "income velocity." I did some thinking and writing about this many years ago. I started with the question, "would you like to make $10,000 or $100,000? Most people choose the second option before I explain the rest.

Would you like to make $100,000 over the next ten years or $10,000 in the next month? A very different response results from this question. The point is that the speed at which money comes to us is important. Who wants to be a hundred-year millionaire, able to claim a million dollars in income, but only over the course of ten decades of hard work? So now we understand the concept of income velocity.

We need the money to come in faster. The idea suggests that we look not just for ways to make money, but--just as importantly--ways to make it come faster and faster. If our income is as an employee this can mean getting a second job, or finding one that pays more per hour or week. In business we can increase income velocity by working smarter, but if that fails we can always work longer hours and move faster as we rush from one task to the next.

A useful concept, perhaps, if more money was the only goal. But imagine how easily this could lead to a stress-filled life devoid of fun and leisure. In fact, you don't have to imagine it. There are enough examples around us, some of them our friends.

You might think that you can just say no to this increasing speed of life. To some extent you can, but imagine what happens when most people are willing to work longer hours and faster as employees or as businesses. Who wants to hire you if other potential employees are twice as fast? Star a business? How can you pay the rent if it is based on the productivity of those all around who are rushing? It seems that the trend is clear, and that rushing will be a necessity for all of us at some point.

Fortunately there are a couple ways out of this dilemma. They are not ideal, and they do not address the underlying causes. I don't know how to address the underlying causes, to be honest. I am in favor of freedom, which has to include freedom in the marketplace to be meaningful, and this leads to the increasing speed of life. But there are some steps we can take to affect our personal part of that marketplace. We can choose to slow down if we approach this dilemma in the right ways.

To start with, we can choose to work smarter. A job that pays more per hour, for example, means we can work fewer hours to make what we need. A business with higher profit margins can mean working less to accomplish the same financial goals. More effective systems can mean less work and higher profits.

What about the rushing-on-the-job aspect? One option to combat the stress of working too fast is to look for employment in positions that are not speed-dependent. For example, a surveillance camera operator has to simply watch the screens in front of him--there is no watching faster. Some businesses are less speed-dependent as well (although all tend to profit more if you work harder and faster). A bookstore, for example, does not have to keep the pace of a fast-food restaurant.

There is another change you can make to avoid joining the rush. Part of the necessity to work harder/faster comes from buying into the consumer lifestyle that has become so prevalent. In point of fact, it takes $60,000 in annual income to support a certain lifestyle, but you can choose to buy a smaller home, live in a cheaper area, refuse to go into credit card debt, and so on. In that case if your refusal to rush means you make just $40,000 each year, you might be the richer for it in real terms (and if you think the "real terms" of wealth are measured in dollars, you just aren't paying attention in life).

Sometimes I wonder if the average billionaire would have still been worth many millions if he or she worked fewer hours and at a slower pace. If so, wouldn't that be enough money? Nothing about choosing to move a bit slower and more wisely suggests that higher income or monetary wealth is not possible. But it also can't be the goal, can it? Don't we want that money for something?

One last thought, just to complicate matters (because life isn't actually very simple); Moving fast isn't rushing. I sometimes rush, and sometimes relax into my work, but I almost always move fast. It's just a habit, and my particular way of operating. A jogger passing people walking is not necessarily rushing. In fact, he may be more relaxed than those whose thoughts are rushing as they walk to work. The problem with the speed of life is not the velocity itself, but the psychology and imbalance of values that sometimes causes it or results from it.

This essay is also not meant to suggest that there is no value in hard work. In fact, hard work by many who currently live by other means would be great for those people and society (and out Federal budget). Work is what pays the bills, keeps us fed, creates new medicines and even new art. But we also want to take time to enjoy life--and art.


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