The Time Value of Life: Why Time is More Valuable than Money by Tisa L. Silver (iUniverse, 2009) 90pp. Paperback. $12.95 (ISBN: 978-1-440103480-7)
Recently, Professor Silver visited Ursinus College to discuss representations and realities of wealth in the African American community with two groups of students. In the conversations that followed, she and I agreed to an interview about the major themes of her book. The following transcript presents our exchange.
Dr. Walter Greason
Walter Greason (WG): The subtitle of your book is ‘why time is more valuable than money.’ Who is the audience you most hope will read this book and learn this lesson? How did they come to believe that the opposite relationship was true?
Tisa Silver (TS): I wrote the book with all people in mind, because we all must face decisions regarding how to use our time and money. However, I hope teens will read this book and learn the lesson more so than any other group. They are at a critical point in their lives, where they have few obligations and a plethora of opportunities. What they choose to do with these years will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. For instance, what will they do after high school? Will they finish high school? By addressing major decisions such as these with a clear vision of the future in mind, they can avoid playing the difficult game of catch-up later.
As for the misconception that money is more valuable than time, unfortunately, we live in an extremely money and celebrity oriented society. From videos, reality television, music, movies and real-life experiences, we learn early that money changes things. For example, have more money and you get more attention, have more money and you don’t have to wait in line, or pay more money and you can get a larger seat in the front of the plane. If you have money, you may be able to escape the legal consequences that the average person may face for committing the same crime. Designers and vendors pay celebrities to wear or endorse their products, but when you visit the store to buy the product, no one rolls out the red carpet for you
There are countless examples of how having money makes a difference, but where can we see or hear similar references made to the value of time? Nowhere.
WG: Could you discuss the fundamental connection you propose between Present Value and Future Value in the early chapters? Why is it difficult for people to apply the principle of that economic connection to their social and psychological lives?
TS: The present value is where you are and the future value is where you can be. The goal of The Time Value of Life model is to encourage forethought – making plans today with goals in mind for the future. Depending upon the inputs, the future value can hold a reward or consequence, but planning ahead can improve the chances of a better outcome. Good investments offer benefits which outweigh their initial costs, bad investments offer the opposite.
I think it is difficult for people to apply the principle because its application requires delayed gratification and sacrifice on the front end and accountability on the back end. Many people do not want to consider the variables and outcomes before they say something, do something or invest in something because when you know better, you are expected to do better.
On the back end, this principle may force people to admit, if only to themselves, how much they really knew before making an ultimately poor choice. After making a mistake, people often say, “I didn’t mean to” or “I didn’t think about that.” They may not have meant to cause an undesirable outcome, but they were probably aware that such an outcome could occur.
For instance, think about a man who drives to happy hour after work, has too much to drink and as a result, hits a pedestrian with his car on the way home.
Ordering each drink required a decision. Getting behind the wheel after drinking required another decision. He knew that too much alcohol could impair his ability to drive safely, but he chose to drink and drive anyway.
Perhaps he felt drinking less would lower his enjoyment, but knowing the outcome would have caused him to drink less or reconsider his actions.
The principle forces people to be accountable for their decisions and the consequences associated with those decisions. My editor, Crystal Simms, told me that the book will “convict you.” Some people just aren’t ready for that! Honestly, that wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but if it helps people to make better decisions, then I am all for it.
WG: You discuss a very painful loss as part of learning a lesson about the value of time. How important was it for you to tell that story as part of this book?
TS: The story of that loss is what made the book. I originally began writing the book in 2005, and my goal was to write a book for teenagers about money management. After suffering such a painful loss, I was reminded of what is most important: how we use our time. As I learned from my loss, we should not assume there will always be more time.
The financial education piece was still important, but I decided time management was equally as important. I thought of the many parallels between finance and life, and money and time. I was able to offer some lessons on two topics, time and money, which everyone must deal with and for which there are no standard training tools in our educational system.
WG: As an historian, I had serious questions about the title of Chapter 16 (“The Past Does Not Dictate the Future”). Could you talk more about how some visions of the past serve to limit a person’s sense of hope and possibility?
TS: I completely understand your questions regarding the title “The Past Does Not Dictate the Future.” There is no doubt that the past influences the future, but my point is that the past does not have to dictate the future. To fully answer your question, I went to the dictionary for definitions of hope and possibility.
Hope- to desire with expectation of obtainment
Visions of the past can hinder the “expectation” part of the definition of hope. For people who are in unfortunate, uncomfortable or undesirable circumstances, I believe, more often than not, the desire to obtain something better or different is definitely there.
However, visions of the past lead them to expect that the future will offer them more of the same. Their expectations will be proven correct if they continue to live as they always have. They want better, but they may not have learned how to obtain better, they may be in an environment which doesn’t support their desire to obtain better, or whatever the case may be. There are a variety of barriers that may stand in the way of great expectations for one’s future, but each person has the ability to set their own expectations.
I want people to get to know themselves, for themselves so they can set their own expectations of obtainment and then, seriously consider what it takes to turn the desire into a decision, and the decision into action.
Possibility – one’s utmost power, capability or ability
Visions of the past can also hinder individuals from being able to picture their utmost power, capability or ability. Looking to the future with hope can create a better picture. There are children who were born into poverty and have gone on to achieve wealth and financial freedom. There are children who grew up without a parent only to become fine parents and mentors. There are students who struggled in their youth and have gone on to be exceptional teachers. Something caused each of them to break the cycle. At some point, they decided they wanted more for themselves and then took action.
I want people to understand they have the power to change things with their own values in mind. I made it a point to avoid telling people exactly what to do, because I recognize everyone is different. What works for me may not work for them, so I presented a decision-making rule which can be manipulated to suit the goals and values of anyone who uses it.
WG: You represent a path towards executive excellence that many people can follow. What were some of the first steps you took on your journey, and how did you overcome the pitfalls and obstacles we all face as we pursue important goals?
TS: Thank you. The first step I took was to treat every job seriously. Many of my early job experiences were temporary office positions I accepted during breaks from college. Whether the job was filing papers, answering phones or stuffing envelopes, the job was mine so I tried hard to do it well and with a smile. I tried so hard because I believe my work is a representation of me, and good work speaks volumes.
Most of the pitfalls and obstacles I encountered were not problems with the task at hand; they were problems with people who were involved in the completion of the task. Treating others the way I would like to be treated, or better, helped alleviate many of those problems. If you can learn to work well with others, life and work can become much easier!
I encountered people who wouldn’t associate with workers in certain groups or frowned upon workers below a certain organizational level. I encountered people who treated me one way because they saw me at the receptionist desk, and then another way once they found out I was in college. People also treated me differently once they found out that I was the professor, not the teaching assistant. I vowed to never be that person, to stay true to myself, regardless of the audience.
I have learned at times you have to lead, and at other times you have to follow. I have also learned that being a good listener often takes you farther than being a good talker. I had to learn that it is okay to promote yourself without being a braggadocio. I also had to learn not to take things too personally. I had to learn how to deconstruct and defeat fear because it is counterproductive.
If I had to list any things that I fear, they would be getting too comfortable (as in being complacent), losing humility and going against my core beliefs. The best piece of advice I can offer is “to thine own self be true.” Find out what is important to you and live a life which represents those values to the best of your ability.
Tisa Silver is a former faculty member of the University of Delaware’s Alfred E. Lerner College of Business and Economics. Silver is also the founder of the non-profit Good Works Coalition. She lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Her website is www.tisasilver.com.