Don’t Let Time Pass You By Thumbnail

I recently had the good opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, a beautiful and fascinating country located in the horn of Africa. My trip over there was a mind-opening experience: I saw striking contrasts of wealth and poverty, and of beauty and misery. There are many places in the country where people live a simple life as everyone did before the age of electricity. In some ways, it is a peaceful existence, but it is also a precarious one, where one lives at the mercy of the next rains to come.

These people live close to the land and to nature, which is a romantic notion for some, but it’s not romantic when you are the victim of drought, famine, or government oppression, as the Ethiopians were in recent history and as the Somalis are today. I believe that the greatest benefit of international travel is that one can truly see how the world can be so different from place to place, even though people all around the world are striving toward the same thing: happiness, and personal fulfilment.

If you were born and live in a country near the top of the Index of Economic Freedom, then chances are you have access to a wide range of opportunities that other people can only dream of. It’s one thing to see a list of countries on an index, and it’s another thing to see reports of poverty and government oppression on the news when it’s happening thousands of miles away from where you are, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see it with your own eyes. I wonder, how many of these people could be future life-saving doctors, famous scientists, or world-renown artists, if only they had the opportunity to do so?

We are all blessed

This trip has made me realize that we are all incredibly blessed for the opportunities that we do have in our lives. How could I, in good conscience, waste the blessings that have been given to me, knowing that there are millions of people out there who would love to be in my shoes? How can I ever be depressed because I have less money, less good looks, or less talent than someone that I see on TV, or even someone that I happen to know in real life, when there are people who have no time for such vanity because they are struggling to survive?

The Ethiopian people are a spiritual people, with a long and deep history of two of the world’s major religions, Christianity and Islam. For the people whom I have met, this spirituality is a personal thing; it is not something to be imposed on others, but it is something to be embraced fully within your own life. Spirituality breathes meaning into one’s life.

This is a view that I can agree with wholeheartedly. I don’t believe that you need to believe in a specific religion in order to give your life meaning, but I do believe that there is deep spiritual meaning in the ultimate values which a person has chosen.  We all have a purpose to fulfill on this planet, and this purpose was created when we were given the most precious gift of all: life.

Time is not on our side

When we are young, and life is long, it can sometimes seem like we don’t have a care in the world. There is always next year to take care of things, and besides, life is all about living in the present, carpe diem, and all that. carpe diem is a great saying, but not when it’s used as an excuse to postpone things to the future simply because one doesn’t feel like dealing with them today.

I am able to say this without being on a high horse because I am surely as guilty of this as the next person is. It’s human nature to tend to optimize things for the present, and it takes some special energy, or perhaps insight, on our part, to realize just how valuable the overall picture is, too. For me, this insight has been all that I have learned through my personal explorations and travels, as well as through writing and reading the valuable insights of others through their own writing.

My personal view is that we need to look at our own lives as a capital asset, and aim to maximize the value of that asset over its entire life, not only the present. Focusing only on the present means we lose out when it comes to the future, just the same as if we overexploit a forest or fishery because we were only thinking about the present. What determines the value is something that we decide, but time is not on our side. Financial Samurai recently blogged about a young and attractive woman who frittered away many of her best years, carelessly wasting away the “capital” of her life. She once had the pick of whichever men she wanted, but didn’t realize that beauty fades with age. All is not lost for her but imagine if she had realized the lesson earlier on. Time does not stop marching for anyone.

What are your values?

No matter where you are, no matter how good looking or not you are, no matter how much money you have, how smart you are, and no matter what kind of family you were born in… you have something valuable to give back to the world. Your life is your most valuable asset, and so long as you have power of mind and body, there is so much that you can do and accomplish. Your values are not what others say they should be, but what you solely determine them to be. Yes, we are but individuals in a giant sea, but even one individual can make a difference.

What are your values? Where do you want to go, and how will you get there?

Whenever I don’t have the motivation, or whenever I have self-doubt, I just think back to what I learned during my trip overseas. We are all fortunate and blessed in one way or another, and we all have great opportunities in front of us. We only have to open our eyes and see, before time runs out.


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Updated for 2017 and beyond.