What Do You Want to Spend Your Life On?

Here’s a funny phrase: “What do you want to spend your life on?”

It refers, of course, to what you’d like your life’s work to be. But it also has, if you take it perhaps too literally, some other linguistic layers of meaning to it1.

Take the word “spend”, which conjures up the image of an economic transaction. Your life is a currency. Almost like going to a store to make a purchase, you get to choose what you spend your time on.

You could choose to spend it on aggrandizing yourself. On making yourself knowledgeable in some field. On making an absurd (or possibly less absurd) amount of money. You could move out into the middle of nowhere and try to isolate yourself from civilization. Or you could try to spend it doing something that you think will have an impact on your fellow human beings, either in the present, or in the future—a legacy.

Of course the analogy falls down at a certain point. Unlike a store, you don’t know, when you’re picking a product to buy, how your life will turn out if you go any given direction. You may not even see all the available options up front—or some may be so distant that you discount that they’re possible at all. Some options may only open up once you’ve gone a certain direction for long enough. Or you may discover once you get there that it wasn’t what you expected.

Still, I think the analogy is useful in more ways than one. For example, the spending analogy helps to emphasize the temporariness of life. Like a currency inflates until it’s eventually worthless, life will pass you by if you don’t do anything. Not spending is not an option—the only option is figuring out what direction you want to go, in this moment.

  1. Let me just say up front that I’m well aware of the spuriousness of taking things too literally. Just like the first two letters of “God” are “go”, and the middle letter of “sin” is “I”, this is a coincidence that has no inherent meaning. I’m not presenting this because I think this is some deep linguistic insight, but because the accidental collision of meanings is fun to think about.↩︎