Imagine running in a race that you that didn't know where the finish line was. You'd be running without knowing how long you have to run. It wouldn't be easy. You wouldn't know how to pace yourself. And at some points, you'd feel like you're going to be running forever.
When we give our age, we count the number of years we've been alive. That's like saying, "I've been running for 5 miles," without knowing how much longer you have to run. This makes it difficult to pace ourselves and makes it hard to feel that every step in the race is heading to anything meaningful. Intellectually, we know we can't run forever, but that doesn't change the fact that we don't know where the finish line is.
Some people who suffer from a terminal illness have a sense of urgency to do something fulfilling before it's too late. They set out to complete their bucket list because they know when the end is. Some even seem to have an incredible appreciation for everyday they have left. It would be great if we all lived everyday as if it were our last, but we know it's probably not, so we don't.
Some people suffer a midlife crisis when they get to the point when they are closer to the day they will die than they day they were born. The realization that the finish line is closer than the start line causes some to try to reclaim their youth, to feel like they did when they set out on the race before they get too tired...before they "miss their chance."
All these issues have nothing to do with appreciation for life or motivation or anything like that. It all stems from not knowing where the finish line is. Ironically, we do have a sense where the finish line is. I know, for example, that statistically I will kick the proverbial bucket at around 75 years old. I hope to be a productive member of society until 70. That gives me 34 years to do all I want to do and make a mark in the world. If I live longer, great, but I'd be living on borrowed time. I have 1,751 weeks to do all the things I want to do and make a mark in the world. The goal is to make every one of those weeks worth something.
I heard a story of a man who set up two fishbowls and filled one with a marble for every week he has left to live. At the end of each week, if he did something that he felt was worth something, he took one marble out of one fish bowl and put it in the other. If he didn't do anything of value, he threw the marble away. That's a pretty stark reminder. You actually have to throw the marble away - a week wasted. A week you'll never get back. The standard of what constitutes doing something of value is your own. It's a feeling. Maybe it's helping your kid with their homework. Maybe it's helping someone across the street. Maybe it's quitting the job you hate to go do something you love. Or maybe it's just sharing an idea that will inspire others to love every week they have left.
By reminding myself that this is the 34th year left until I reach the finish line, I feel a sense of empowerment much stronger than when I tell people I've been puttering around for 36 years.