What's Worth Your Time?

Two years ago I believed I was a time millionaire. If I wanted something badly enough I could just spend the time necessary to achieve it. This was a philosophy that powered me through my academic career. If I wanted the best project, I spent more time on it than my peers. I went further than they were willing to go. I believed that the one who wins was the one who wants it more.

But then I met someone who challenged my thinking. He would ask me questions like, is it worth your time? What's the point? His words took a little wind out of my sails. I found myself having to justify everything. It took the fun out of life. I don't see things completely like I used to. This isn't his fault. This would have happened eventually. In fact, I know he was actually helping me battle two contradictory ideas already present in my mind. Ideas I had put on the back burner. 

The first idea was deeply rooted in my optimistic childhood. When you're young, for those with happy childhoods, you can do anything! The universe is yours! Reach for the stars! It's all positive. Then you meet others who've experienced hard times. Maybe you experience some yourself and it changes you. That’s where the second idea started developing.

I almost died before my 21st birthday. I waited too long to go the doctor when I was feeling sick. It turned out to be an appendicitis. It leaked when it was finally removed and I ended up spending a week in the hospital. The experience brought me uncomfortably close to the concept of mortality. Most people acknowledge that they will die someday, but it’s entirely different to entertain it as a possibility in the next 10 minutes. For a few months afterward, I was on high alert. I was afraid that I might get close to that point again. 

Once the fear subsided, I began to search for an ultimate aim to drive towards. Something that outweighed the sting of death, should it come. What could I accomplish during my existence that would make me happy enough not to care about dying? What’s worth my time? What’s worth spending the 657,000 hours I have remaining on? Especially, if that estimate is considerably less. Did you notice the clock? Eight hours just went by. Eight hours closer to the end.

Nothing I could do would ever take the sting out of watching my health decline to that ultimate point. Unless, I worked on extending my own life. Just like what the surgeons had done for me. Had I died then, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to enjoy these past 4 years. I wouldn’t have met my extraordinary girlfriend. I wouldn’t have even graduated from college. What if I could work on something that could extend my life and the lives of others even further? Even to 1000? Dare I say beyond? There is a man working on just that right now. Actually, there’s a lot of people chipping away at this problem. 

His name is Aubrey de Grey and he’s the Chief Science Officer at the SENS Research Foundation. It may sound like science fiction, but there are many good reasons to lay skepticism aside. Aside from hearing what he has to say and examining the scientific progress they have achieved so far, I think it’s important to understand something about the future. This is that first idea, the idea of optimism coming through and it’s the reason you’re able to enjoy many of the modern convinces we have today. The future will always be more fantastic than you can imagine. If you can imagine the future, it’s not the future—that’s just another version of today. I’ll give you an example.

In 1805, two wealthy brothers from Boston were at a family picnic, enjoying the rare luxuries of cold beverages and ice cream. They joked about how their chilled refreshments would be the envy of all the colonists sweating in the West Indies. It was a passing remark, but it stuck with one of the brothers. His name was Frederic Tudor, and 30 years later, he would ship nearly 12,000 tons of ice halfway around the globe to become the “Ice King.”

Frederic convinced William to join him in a scheme to ship ice from New England to the Caribbean. Tudor reasoned that once people tried it, they’d never want to live without it. During the next six months, the brothers pooled their money and laid out plans to ship their product to the French island of Martinique, where they hoped to create a monopoly on ice.

No one believed the idea would work. In fact, no ship in Boston would agree to transport the unusual cargo, so Frederic spent nearly $5000 (a big chunk of the seed money) buying a ship of his own. On February 10, 1806, the Boston Gazette reported, “No joke. A vessel with a cargo of 80 tons of ice has cleared out from this port for Martinique. We hope this will not prove to be a slippery speculation.”

It did. Although the ice arrived in Martinique in perfect condition, no one wanted to buy it. Tudor desperately explained how the cold blocks of ice could be used in the stifling Caribbean heat, but islanders weren’t convinced.
— Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Order a drink at any fast food chain today and it will assuredly be packed with ice unless omitted by request. In 1806, ice in a styrofoam cup, in say Texas, was inconceivable, much like living to 1000 is today. Try wrapping your mind around knowing someone who is near 1000 or older being as common as ice in a fast food drive thru. And again, if it’s believable, it’s not the future. The future will most likely be even more fantastic!

There are many examples throughout history that challenge skepticism and encourage optimism. Say to this mountain, Be thou removed and cast into the sea… it shall be done.