Once Upon a Time

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Dec 27, 2014

“Time moves in one direction; memory moves in another.”
William Gibson

According to the Oxford English Dictionary “Once upon a time” has been used in the English language as a stock phrase in storytelling since 1380 and has opened many oral narratives since 1600. These stories are often fairy tales for children and they often end with the familiar “and they lived happily ever after.” 

Every time a calendar year comes to a close I find myself pondering my own use of time. I like to look back over the year and review the things I experienced, the places I went, the people I saw, the things I did. It is a great time to take inventory about how I used my time. 

I also like to reflect on what I would have done differently if I had the opportunity to do them over again. But since clocks do not run backwards, it is the perfect time to ponder how I will get to do them differently in the new year. 

We also know that the older we get, our use of time takes on even more meaning. When I was in my 20s and 30s I viewed time very differently than I do now in my 60s. Each year time becomes more precious as I realize there are fewer years in front of me than there are behind me. 

This I know, few of us want to approach our lives with the casual narrative of a children’s fairy tale. Few of us would use “once upon a time” to describe the lives we are living. We just know time is more important than that. And we are not the only ones who feel that way. 

Brian Tracy spoke of the priority of time when he said, “There is never enough time to do everything but there is always enough time to do the important thing.” Are we not forever revising our “to do” lists to make sure they include the things that really matter? As someone said, we can all too easily “sacrifice the important on the altar of the immediate.” 

Who of us has not said that we don’t have enough time to do something? H. Jackson Brown Jr. said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.” 

We all know that it is our personal responsibility to manage our time in the best possible way. No one will do it for us. And we certainly shouldn’t waste our time trying to live another person’s life. Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

But that doesn’t mean we should only use our time for ourselves. I once saw a plaque that read, “The greatest gift you can give someone else is your time. You are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.” And, if it someone you love like I do Evie, I would always want to say these words to her, “Forever is a long time but I wouldn’t mind spending it by your side.”

Time is also something that is hard to weigh. As someone said, “I still think 1990 was 10 years ago.” Or, “When things don’t happen right away just remember it takes six months to build a Rolls-Royce and 13 hours to build a Toyota.” (My apologies to Toyota owners.)

Yes, now is a good time to look back over this past year and ponder how we used our time. But it is also a great time to look ahead and ponder how we will use our time in the new year. 

If we are wise stewards of our time, we can be able to say we ‘lived happily ever after.’   

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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