Tempis Fugit

How often we’ve heard, and used, the phrase ‘time flies’ without giving it much thought. The phrase paints a picture of time flying away from us almost whimsically, like a butterfly, naturally and unburdened. The term actually derives from the Latin, tempis fugit, and originally appeared in Virgil’s Georgics – as fugit inreparabile tempus or “it escapes, irretrievable time.” Fugit forms the root of our word fugitive, painting a different picture of the flight of time than our butterfly, irretrievably escaping like a thief.

Without thinking too much about time it’s easy to regard it as circular and repetitive. Our minutes and hours are punctuated by habitual activities like grooming, eating, maybe exercising, working, etc. Each day is pretty much like the last in its structure and cadence. The variables we experience operate largely within a range of predictability, as we associate and mingle with others. Five days of the week are pretty similar to one another followed by two that are different from the five, but largely similar to themselves in activity and character. The months and seasons have their own habitual activities that are repeated each year. Time in this sense isn’t irretrievable at all – activities repeat daily, weekly, monthly, and so on. If we miss something, we’ll catch it next time, right?

Then there’s that other way of measuring time – the BIRTHDAY. Each new year we are reminded of time’s passage in a starkly different way than circular as we gaze into an increasingly bright glow of a mushrooming mass of candles and smoke hoping to harness enough lung power to extinguish them without embarrassment. As we heartily, yet as dryly as possible, blow into the fire, a fleeting thought crosses our oxygen-depleting minds – the flames atop each of those 30, 40, 50, 60, . . . 90+ candles are being irretrievably extinguished. How rich it is to remove each candle in celebration of a year well lived rather than to be reminded of how much better we might have lived it, how much brighter and sweeter?

A good friend, we’ll call him Arthur, asked me the other day why he should accept my offer to help him build a life goal plan, why my process would be better than his life-long process that had worked quite well for him and his family. I began by telling him that there are as many reasons to plan as there are people and dreams, to which he replied, ‘I don’t want a vineyard.’ After a chuckle and nod to the industry-standard retirement marketing, I reminded him of the several earnest questions he had posed during our lunch.

  • “How have I done in building wealth to take care of my wife (Ellen) and me in our retirement years?”
  • “I continue to work because I largely enjoy it, but also to help my children who work as teachers and do not make enough to meet their needs. Do I continue?”
  • “I’d like to set up a trust of $1 million to help my children and grandchildren when we are gone. Can I do this?”
  • “I’ve always appreciated the growth potential of the stock market, but am concerned about the future of our country, especially in light of this election. Is the risk in my portfolio too high?” Do I need to save more?
  • “What if we live longer than expected? What if we suffer a major health issue?”

Arthur has had and still enjoys a brilliant career and wonderful health. As he approaches 80, he is thinking about things differently. His lifelong ‘planning’ model has been to to work hard, build a nest egg and share with his children from his significant earnings. But his model does not provide him with adequate answers to today’s questions. It does not offer him the confidence he needs, but more fundamentally, it falls woefully short of enabling him to envision the hugely significant potential he has in his next ten, fifteen, or maybe even 20 years.

The plan I recently presented to Arthur and Ellen shows exceptionally high confidence of exceeding every goal they value, including their worst-case health events and leaves room for so much more. Starting with $7 million today, Arthur can retire immediately with over 95% confidence of spending and giving to his children, $7 million during their lifetimes (planned until ages 92 and 93) and still fund a family trust with more than $7 million.

But this plan is just the beginning for Arthur and Ellen. When they are turned loose with our hand’s-on planning tools, designed to help turn dreams into goals, the fun and potential really takes flight. It is my hope that they will see how much more potential is in their wealth and time to share as they will imagine.

Time is not repeating, it is fleeting. The choice is ours to use it circuitously or purposefully to make our candles burn as bright as they might.

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