In this age of austerity, a lot of people are leaving my organisation through voluntary redundancy. Voluntary redundancy can be quite a good way to part company, but inevitably for some when the moment of farewell comes it is hard. Different people deal with it in different ways. Some have a knees up, some have and make speeches. Some slip away quietly, others have a go at the ‘leadership’ which includes me.
I’ve noticed though that some people – especially those who are nearly or over 60 and who have worked for 25 to 30 years for us – get quite frantic. This manifests itself as an incredible drive to get things ‘fixed’ before they leave. This can be their overall legacy, a last piece of work or sometimes just a detail they feel they can’t rest until they’ve sorted. It reminds me of the ‘nesting’ stuff we did before our first child was born – objectively you need to focus on the big change coming in your life, but instead you fuss about cot sheets, wallpaper and in our case finishing building the kitchen.
I was talking to a thoughtful and clever person at work about this today and I advanced my emergent theory of the ‘sands of time double whammy’. I believe our brains are Bayesian probability engines. Everything we do, see and think in some way gets incorporated into our brain so that we act and react based on a quasi-instinctive, but highly tuned estimation of the ‘thing to do’ in any situation based on the vast experience dataset we carry in our heads. So why the ‘double whammy’?
My theory (constructed in a thoroughly Bayesian fashion through a blend of unremembered facts, data, experience and sources) is that our perception of time over duration is relative – and related to how long we’ve been alive. My thesis is that the reason summer holidays seemed endless when I was little is bacause 6 weeks when you’ve only lived a few hundred weeks is a significant proportion of your total life. 6 weeks when you’ve lived several thousand weeks is much less – hence it feels like it passes faster.
Of course we could argue about the stimuli, as an adult you’re busier as a child you have days and days doing the same things. But it seems to me – and I’ve observed in others – as you age the passage of time accelerates. A Bayesian brain which logs everything is hardly going to ignore hard earned experience so new experiences and today must compete for salience with old and the many yesterdays.
That’s half the ‘whammy’. The other half is the ‘sands of time problem’. At 40 something I can still reassure myself I have a good chance of living as long again as I have lived so far. A good chance. But I know that’s becoming increasingly untenable. Within the next 5 years the odds of doubling my life so far will diminish rapidly.
So how will I feel when I am nearly 60, potentially leaving a life’s work, time running faster and faster and the end looming closer and closer? As I said to two different people today, come find me with a gun and shoot me if I’m still working flat out in an Executive job when I’m in my middle fifties.
Not that I’d be too old, just that my days will be racing away and the sands of my time pouring through my hourglass. If I’m still trying to please my boss, make my end of year targets and conjure up another organisation change I need to move on and get a life before the end of life gets me.