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Always fleeting, never in sight: Reflections on time and what we do with it

Last month, I took a day off work and drove up to Redditch, a town south of Birmingham, to spend the day with Joan Horton. 

It was no ordinary day: it was Joan’s 95th birthday. 

After living for nine and a half decades, Joan is impressively sharp. Yet she finds it hard to relate to the fast pace of modern life. Like many people in her generation, Joan finds familiarity and comfort in her memories.

So, Joan and I sat and talked about the old days.

In the mid-1950s, a young woman in her twenties, Joan met and married Fred. The newlyweds lived on the Bournville estate with Joan’s mother Frances, an employee at Cadbury’s. 

By the late 50s, Joan and Fred had applied for a home in the new town of Redditch. The area had previously been home to a few 12th-century monks and little else. 

The homes on offer came with a front door and windows. That was it. No carpets, no internal doors and no heating. Yet Joan and Fred were thrilled to learn their application had been accepted. 

They moved in and Fred took a job in the so-called “clean industry” of making batteries on a large production line—a job that 50 years later would claim his life due to the inhalation of asbestos particles.

As we journeyed through time together, Joan (known as ‘Nan’ to me) said one thing that stayed with me;

Sometimes the minutes drag but the weeks and months, they seem to pass like days.

For Joan, the passage of time is a paradox, seeming to speed up but at the same time slow down.

We all experience shifts and changes in how we understand and navigate time depending on where we are in our lives. This concept was first discussed in 1897 by the French philosopher Paul Janet. 

Janet considered the mathematical implications of time relative to lifespan. Applying his conceptualisations to an example, consider the span of a year. To a five-year-old, 12 months is 20% of their life, but for a person like Joan, that same period is 1% of her life. 

Maybe this is why children constantly ask, “Are we there yet?”. Based on their perception of time, it’s taking a larger chunk of a child’s short life to get there than it is for the adult travelling with them. 

These personal and theoretical perceptions of time led me to recall the character Dunbar from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22. In particular, this passage:

Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it and the time passed so slowly. He had figured out that a single hour on the skeet-shooting range with people like Havermeyer and Appleby could be worth as much as eleven-times-seventeen years.

Dunbar wanted to live for as long as possible. For him seeking out activities he hated made the time pass slowly, giving him the perception of more time passing. 

Regardless of how we ponder time—narrated through personal stories, theoretically, through a child’s eye or literary rhetoric—it remains one constant that never changes. But our perceptions and ideas certainly can and do change, especially when it comes to the relationship between time and money.

The financial planning service created by Barnaby Cecil, WealthMap®, is a clever tool that supports us to adjust our perspective on time and money in a way that is more beneficial for us.

Take, for example, the value of £1. Today, it feels like less money than £1.35 would feel like in ten years. But these two figures actually hold the same value (assuming a 3% annual increase in inflation). 

But I often see that it’s not always easy for us to adjust our thinking about the changes of value over time caused by inflation like in the above example. WealthMap® knows we are not good at thinking like this, so the tool has been designed to display these figures in "real-time".

When planning using WealthMap®, we might calculate your current spending at say £3,000 a month. A figure you would expect to be spending in ten years as well. However, adjusting for inflation and the value of the pound, in reality, the ‘absolute number’ in this scenario might be closer to £5,000 per month.

Cleverly, the WealthMap® software is adjusting for these changes over time but continues to provide you with visual data that helps our brains cope better with the passage of time.

The beliefs and assumptions you apply to the decisions you make now to safeguard your future may very well shift as time passes, circumstances change and your own perceptions alter. Using the supportive elements of the WealthMap® tool can offer expertly designed guidance through these transitions of your life.

Reflecting on her past, I asked Joan if she had anything she’d like to share with you, she offered this advice:

Don’t assume things will carry on as they are forever. I did. But, they won’t. One day, everything will change. And before you know it, you’re 95.

Make the most of the time you have. Because you never know when everything will change.

Joan’s message is simple. Time is accelerating for all of us. Avoiding complacency gives us a better reason than any to think about, plan, and act to ensure the quality of this time.


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