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The Anxiety of Never Knowing How Much Time You Have Left

Time is an odd sort of currency. You’re free to spend it or squander it as you will, but no matter how you choose to budget your remaining years, they’re only ever dispensed in tiny micropayments, cent by cent, heartbeat by heartbeat, tick after tock after tick.

Which means you have no way of knowing how much of it you have left. Maybe you’re just now coming down to your last dime. Or maybe you’re sitting on a vast fortune, with many decades still to come—but even then, you’d have no way of knowing it until it’s too late, when you finally look around and conclude you must’ve been rich all along.

But suppose it was possible to check your remaining balance, knowing exactly how many heartbeats you had left in your lifetime. Most human beings will top out at around two billion beats, more with good behavior. Would it feel humbling to see your life distilled into a string of digits, gently ticking down? Or would it feel oddly comforting? After all, if you knew your time was short, you’d have no reason not to live each day as if it was your last, knowing how close that was to being true. And if your number was still in the billions, you could bank on a long retirement, kicking back and taking a little time for yourself, feeling like a billionaire.

At first. But then, in quiet moments, you’d start to notice a certain rhythm throbbing in your ears, like a clock you’d managed to tune out for months, only to hear it punctuate the silence with a tick, tick, tick. Whenever you settled down to sleep, you’d find it hard to ignore the feeling of your heart heaving around in its cage, pounding out its rhythm, which only seems to get faster the more you think about it. With every beat, you’d feel your fortune being withdrawn, cent by cent, a steady deposit of coins rattling down into a deep metal tray.

How long would it be before you’d start hoarding time, turning over every moment in your mind, looking for a price tag? You’d become all too aware how much life you keep trading for a pittance of salary, aware that tying your shoelaces wrong will cost you twenty beats, that posting a comment online might set you back three hundred, all of which might’ve been better spent elsewhere. You’d come to the end of a bad movie and whisper to yourself with some urgency, “That’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back.”

Alas. You’re never getting any of it back. It’s the cost of doing business. And even if you could have it appraised down to the fraction of a second, its value would be no clearer. Time has no inherent value. If it’s a currency, it’s a kind of fiat currency, in that you can’t just cash it in for anything solid. Which means it’s up to you to decide what it’s worth trading for.

It may be a blessing that you never know how much time you have left, because it leaves you no other option but to listen to your heart and get into its rhythm, so you can focus on the things that make life worth living. So go ahead: make every second count, or don’t. Seize the day or while away the hours. All you have is this moment. That alone is a blessing. You’re almost out of time, and you have all the time in the world.

Acronym of The Insatiable Crocodile Hunts (What’s) Left of Captain Hook. Pronounced “tik-lok.”



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