Posted by bob on July 30, 2023

When I speak to college students, I often share my age (gasp) and then I say, “Pretty soon I’m going to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.” This gets some laughs, but the joke hides serious thoughts. Nearer the end of life than the beginning, I am still trying to comprehend some very basic stuff.

When I was in college, I bounced back-and-forth between electrical engineering and other pursuits. Eventually engineering won. Real engineers got to do such cool stuff that I wanted to be one of them.

I worked at one or more jobs to keep a roof over my head and pay tuition. This was long before many educational institutions went crazy and started charging so much that a student had to have rich parents or be drowning in debt. I took a slightly lighter course load most semesters—which allowed me to work at the same time. But I also took classes in the summer—which allowed me to make up for some of the lighter class schedule. I also leveraged some high test scores or experience to “test-out” of maybe two classes in five years. I didn’t get any course credit for those test-out situations, but I was allowed to start with a more advanced class without taking the pre-requisite class.

I believe that I used to throw myself into work and work-related projects when I became too frustrated with school. Conversely, I would occasionally throw myself into classes when I became frustrated with job stress. This was especially true if I had let a class slide too much and that course suddenly needed a lot more attention.

Careers, marriage, kids, and responsibilities piled together quickly into the middle of my life. I do wish that I had been better at appreciating or understanding the good times and the bad during that segment of life. My wife and I agree that when you are going through some periods in your life time seems to crawl along all-too-slowly. And yet, we can now look back and think, “How did all that time go by so quickly?”

As you age, the years go by faster and faster. No, seriously: it’s a mathematical fact that I can prove. If you are one year old, at the next year you will be two. That second year you just experienced represents one half of your total life. But when you are (let’s say) 70 years old, one year represents only one-seventieth of your total life. The numerator of one year to total years is always one, but the denominator is always increasing until you die. The ratio just keeps getting smaller. Each subsequent year is an ever-diminishing fraction of your life. Relatively speaking, every year goes by faster.

I often think about a line from the song “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. The years going by correspond to a carousel going around and around. She sings, “’Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”

Some jokester said that time is nature’s way of making sure that everything doesn’t happen at once. Occasionally though, it can feel like everything is happening at once.

Towards the end of his life, my father used to tell us that we needed to make sure we stopped and smelled the roses once in a while. I think he was feeling the pressure of that diminishing ratio. Although I intellectually understood what he was saying back then, today I understand it emotionally too. I’m starting to drag my feet to slow the circles down.

Now another lyric (from the song “Father and Son”) by Cat Stevens pops into my head. “Take your time. Think a lot…think of everything you’ve got. For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.”

So what are you going to do when you grow up? I don’t know about you, but I’ve still got some dreams left to pursue.