TIME: Could This Be What Separates The Great From The Not-Too-Great?

“Time remains life’s most valuable asset.”

Growing up for me, as few would imagine, was not really the easiest. Although I have very little memory of my childhood, I can still vividly recall the events of 2007 – and no, it wasn’t the global market meltdown, I was too naïve then to have known anything about that.

It was the year my uncle got married, and for whatever reasons, my mom gave everything – literally everything – not just her money, time, resource & energy. Everything! She was literally spent. My mom is the firstborn of 6 children, so you can imagine the cultural ‘obligation’ required of her to stand-in for her late father at her younger brother’s – my uncle – wedding ceremony.

Has fate would have it, around that same period, my dad also got this weird promotion. Those kinds that usually take you to a far far away city – away from your family. There I was, with my dad away, and my mother – a single parent in some sense – with the sole responsibility of catering to my siblings & I. She literally took care of everything, from ensuring we looked presentable among our peers, to laundry, managing the home, her career, church obligations, family responsibilities, and much more. As I grew older and began appreciating life and the gift of time, I couldn’t help but get lost in thought; how was she able to do all that without a mental or emotional breakdown? Or maybe she did have one, but like every African parent, they’ve skillfully learnt to hide those tears from their kids. Hard guy stuff!

Truth is, I’ve seen my mom cry, although not too many times. Maybe just once, and this led me into erroneously think she was some superhuman.

The one time I saw my mom cry was in front of our mechanic. Yes, our mechanic! It was a regular sunny afternoon after the close of school, and my mom just drove into the mechanic shop – like she usually does. Oh! that day nothing was wrong with her vehicle. Earlier before school resumed, my mom had made a brilliant makeshift arrangement with Baba Wasiu – our mechanic – to house us in his shop every day after school, while we waited for her to come back from work to pick us. I must have spent hundreds of hours in that mechanic workshop waiting for her every weekday all through my childhood. Such time could have been put to better use if I knew any better.

She drove in his shop like every other day just that this time, she looked different. She must have had a rough day at work. My siblings and I all assembled and filed into our designated seats in the car when I noticed Baba Wasiu gently comforting my mom. What! Tears? How? When? Why? So she cries too? I was too shocked when I found out that I completely forgot to ask what was wrong. Silly me.

Back to the strory..

Immediately after her brother’s wedding, she hit rock bottom. Her jalopy vehicle – a brownish-pink Toyota Camry 1998 model with a license plate that ended with DX – one which will easily pass for a mini-school bus, which she used in transporting my siblings, my friends and 3 of my neighbour’s kids daily to school, with all 6 kids, sometimes more, all cramped in – got bad.
Shortly after the wedding, it developed a mechanical fault and was completely grounded for over a year. That year my mom couldn’t even get us much Christmas presents. The fact that she even got us something was a pleasant surprise. She must have bled, borrowed and begged to get those Christmas clothes, we all knew. “Where was my dad?”, you ask, he was working (in a far far away city) then.

All through that year, my mom’s finances were a complete mess. How she managed to put a meal daily on our table remains a sheer miracle. I remember making this stupid joke one evening when she was opening the doors and we were about to enter our house. I joked about the house getting burnt or destroyed, and we having nowhere to sleep – poorly timed joke yeah? I can’t recall the exact lines of that ill-timed joke but I can still clearly remember my mom’s slaps – like lightning in a clear evening sky, they thundered repeatedly on my back.
I was young quite alright, but I knew the punishment just melted out were in greater proportion to my sins. It has to be more than a poor joke – I silently thought. I somehow knew I was just the scapegoat who got punished for a sin he knew very little about.

“Ultimately, the unit for measuring life is time..”

My experiences all through my childhood taught me an important lesson – not only for life but one which will serve me someday as a parent and investor – about the priceless value of Time.

You see, time is life most valuable asset.

Nobody on their dying bed asks for more money, more assets, more academic degrees, more cars or the latest iPhone. All that person ever needs is more time – with their partner, with their children, loved ones and desperately wishing that they spent their time a little more differently. Without doubt, I think my mom must have known this early – that was why she could easily trade the time she would have spent on other ventures – like her career – easily for us, her kids. She always told us, while growing up, that her kids are her greatest achievements. This made no sense to a ruddy 6-year-old whose biggest worry at that time was to get Coca-Cola sweet and ‘Fanyogo’. Today, I’m in my mid-20s, and I think I’m a lot wiser now (hopefully) and I can better understand the choice she made.

Today, my siblings and I are all grown, have left home and pretty much leading decent lives in different cities where we reside. My mom still works in corporate – a top shot at work and she’s currently nearing her retirement from full-time employment. She has changed her mobile phone on countless occasions – with her own money. She must have bought 2 or 3 more cars after that ordeal in 2007 – with her money. She has built her own house – with her money. She has this thing for Israel and will be visiting there on an all-expense trip – most likely with her own money. Do you get the picture by now? She’s pretty comfortable – a far better place than where she was 15 years ago, with far more disposable income and fewer worries in her life.

As I’ve grown and currently approach the age of starting a family – my family, I’ve come to both cherish and reflect on these experiences. What kind of parent will I be? what legacy will I leave for my (not-yet-born) daughters and their generation?

It will be greatly naïve of me to disregard “the opportunity cost of life” – or parenting; which is to sacrifice corporate growth, climbing the corporate ladder or building an enviable career, in exchange for a far more noble option – spending more time to be invested in your kid’s life, raising decent kids in exchange and being actively involved in their lives. I watched my mom make tough choices, now this is the decade I’ll be making mine.

“90s babies, this is our decade. By the end of this decade, we would make life changing decisions – whether to start a family, have kids, build our income, rise in corporate ladder or build a company..”

The first time I became aware of this life dilemma was my conversation with Former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment – Dr Okechukwu Enelamah. He has just quizzed me on deciding whether or not to accept a scholarship for a graduate program or to stay on a job. Both tempting options. I chose the later – not after weeks of indecision.

Would it be possible to have both? Be actively involved in my kids lives – a family guy – and also build a world-class career concurrently? To have both?

I’ve been greatly privileged in life to have met people from different walks and social class, and one thing I have noticed about greatly successful and wealthy folks is how they treat time. There is a common trait with them that those who are not-too-successful wither do not have or completely disregard.

Hardly will you find a successful woman (whatever your metrics of measuring success) talk shop about stuff. (money, toys) On the contrary, she is more interested in making her time more valuable, hence she has a preference to talk more about investment. This is the same pattern I’ve noticed with successful people.

Last week, I visited a tech co-founder friend and I noticed the trend also. We did get to talk about so many things, but our conversations were mainly across investments, societal influence, engineering and interactions, life, values and the future we wanted to build. Could this be the litmus test for success?

At 19, I had a mentor who will rather pay for his chores and had a chef because he believes his wife is too productively engaged, runs a tight schedule and as such shouldn’t be encumbered with the triviality of kitchen duties. Rightfully so, his wife was running her second PhD abroad.

Another mentor shares similar mindsets. Oh, they are both wealthy – by materialist standards. Could it be one of the reasons why they are wealthy? The more they built their wealth, they must have somehow stumbled on the timeless truth – that money of itself isn’t the real value; their time was, and time spent is forever lost. The time daily allotted to each human under the sun is fixed and equal but the demand on time varies, and if more time were invested in mundane activities, what was left for serious activity – wealth-building activities – were but a paltry amount.

That was it! The successful and great in life have always known this and they have developed a system to multiply their time by leveraging on other’s – further making theirs’s more valuable.

Imagine if we eliminated and/or maybe work extra hard to get to a point in our lives where we can afford to pay for certain activities, so we are free and able to acquire more time because ultimately, the unit for measuring life is time.

How you treat today’s time can be the clearest predictor of the type and quality of life you’ll lead tomorrow.

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