Life is Short
（January 2016 ）
（2016 年 1 月）
Life is short, as everyone knows. When I was a kid I used to wonder about this. Is life actually short, or are we really complaining about its finiteness? Would we be just as likely to feel life was short if we lived 10 times as long?
Since there didn't seem any way to answer this question, I stopped wondering about it. Then I had kids. That gave me a way to answer the question, and the answer is that life actually is short.
Having kids showed me how to convert a continuous quantity, time, into discrete quantities. You only get 52 weekends with your 2 year old. If Christmas-as-magic lasts from say ages 3 to 10, you only get to watch your child experience it 8 times. And while it's impossible to say what is a lot or a little of a continuous quantity like time, 8 is not a lot of something. If you had a handful of 8 peanuts, or a shelf of 8 books to choose from, the quantity would definitely seem limited, no matter what your lifespan was.
Ok, so life actually is short. Does it make any difference to know that?
It has for me. It means arguments of the form "Life is too short for x" have great force. It's not just a figure of speech to say that life is too short for something. It's not just a synonym for annoying. If you find yourself thinking that life is too short for something, you should try to eliminate it if you can.
When I ask myself what I've found life is too short for, the word that pops into my head is "bullshit." I realize that answer is somewhat tautological. It's almost the definition of bullshit that it's the stuff that life is too short for. And yet bullshit does have a distinctive character. There's something fake about it. It's the junk food of experience. （1）
当我问自己，我发现了什么事是生命太短以至于我不能做的，突然出现在我脑海中的词是"狗屁事情"。我意识到这答案似乎有点重复或者说啰嗦。这几乎是“狗屁事情”的定义，它本身就是指生命太短我们不能去做的东西。然而，“狗屁事情”确实有独特之处。它有欺骗性，就好比“垃圾食品”。 （这一段翻得不是很好，回头再继续修改。bullshit翻译成“无意义之事”会不会更好） （尾注1）
If you ask yourself what you spend your time on that's bullshit, you probably already know the answer. Unnecessary meetings, pointless disputes, bureaucracy, posturing, dealing with other people's mistakes, traffic jams, addictive but unrewarding pastimes.
There are two ways this kind of thing gets into your life: it's either forced on you, or it tricks you. To some extent you have to put up with the bullshit forced on you by circumstances. You need to make money, and making money consists mostly of errands. Indeed, the law of supply and demand insures that: the more rewarding some kind of work is, the cheaper people will do it. It may be that less bullshit is forced on you than you think, though. There has always been a stream of people who opt out of the default grind and go live somewhere where opportunities are fewer in the conventional sense, but life feels more authentic. This could become more common.
You can do it on a smaller scale without moving. The amount of time you have to spend on bullshit varies between employers. Most large organizations (and many small ones) are steeped in it. But if you consciously prioritize bullshit avoidance over other factors like money and prestige, you can probably find employers that will waste less of your time.
If you're a freelancer or a small company, you can do this at the level of individual customers. If you fire or avoid toxic customers, you can decrease the amount of bullshit in your life by more than you decrease your income.
But while some amount of bullshit is inevitably forced on you, the bullshit that sneaks into your life by tricking you is no one's fault but your own. And yet the bullshit you choose may be harder to eliminate than the bullshit that's forced on you. Things that lure you into wasting your time have to be really good at tricking you. An example that will be familiar to a lot of people is arguing online. When someone contradicts you, they're in a sense attacking you. Sometimes pretty overtly. Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn't designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it's better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life. （2）
Arguing online is only incidentally addictive. There are more dangerous things than that. As I've written before, one byproduct of technical progress is that things we like tend to become more addictive. Which means we will increasingly have to make a conscious effort to avoid addictions — to stand outside ourselves and ask "is this how I want to be spending my time?"
As well as avoiding bullshit, one should actively seek out things that matter. But different things matter to different people, and most have to learn what matters to them. A few are lucky and realize early on that they love math or taking care of animals or writing, and then figure out a way to spend a lot of time doing it. But most people start out with a life that's a mix of things that matter and things that don't, and only gradually learn to distinguish between them.
For the young especially, much of this confusion is induced by the artificial situations they find themselves in. In middle school and high school, what the other kids think of you seems the most important thing in the world. But when you ask adults what they got wrong at that age, nearly all say they cared too much what other kids thought of them.
One heuristic for distinguishing stuff that matters is to ask yourself whether you'll care about it in the future. Fake stuff that matters usually has a sharp peak of seeming to matter. That's how it tricks you. The area under the curve is small, but its shape jabs into your consciousness like a pin.
确认事情是否重要的一种启发式方法，就是问问自己未来是否还会重视它。 看起来重要的东西通常会像峰值曲线一样，让你觉得很重要。 那是它在欺骗你。 曲线下的面积其实很小，但它的形状像大头针一样刺激着你的神经。
The things that matter aren't necessarily the ones people would call "important." Having coffee with a friend matters. You won't feel later like that was a waste of time.
对我们有意义的事情不一定是人们通常认为“重要”的事情。 和朋友一起喝咖啡也很重要， 因为您以后并不会觉得是在浪费时间。
One great thing about having small children is that they make you spend time on things that matter: them. They grab your sleeve as you're staring at your phone and say "will you play with me?" And odds are that is in fact the bullshit-minimizing option.
生小孩的一大好处是，他们会让您将时间花在重要的事情上：他们。 当您凝视手机时，他们抓住你的袖子，说：“能和我一起玩吗？” 实际上，这是避免“狗屁事情”的最佳选择。
If life is short, we should expect its shortness to take us by surprise. And that is just what tends to happen. You take things for granted, and then they're gone. You think you can always write that book, or climb that mountain, or whatever, and then you realize the window has closed. The saddest windows close when other people die. Their lives are short too. After my mother died, I wished I'd spent more time with her. I lived as if she'd always be there. And in her typical quiet way she encouraged that illusion. But an illusion it was. I think a lot of people make the same mistake I did.
如果生命短暂，我们应该期待生命的短暂带给我们的惊讶。 而这也正是将会发生的。 你认为理所当然的事情，突然就消失了。 您认为您总是可以写本书，或者爬座山，或者做其他事，然后就意识到，“机会之窗”已经关了。 当你周围的人死亡时，那扇最可悲的“机会之窗”也会关闭。 他们的生命其实也很短暂。 我母亲去世后，我真希望我能和她在一起多待一些时光。那之后，我感觉好像她永远都在那里， 并且母亲也以她惯有的安静方式鼓励了我的这种幻想。 但是那毕竟是一种幻想。 我认为，很多人都犯了和我相同的错误。
The usual way to avoid being taken by surprise by something is to be consciously aware of it. Back when life was more precarious, people used to be aware of death to a degree that would now seem a bit morbid. I'm not sure why, but it doesn't seem the right answer to be constantly reminding oneself of the grim reaper hovering at everyone's shoulder. Perhaps a better solution is to look at the problem from the other end. Cultivate a habit of impatience about the things you most want to do. Don't wait before climbing that mountain or writing that book or visiting your mother. You don't need to be constantly reminding yourself why you shouldn't wait. Just don't wait.
避免被某些事物吓到的通常方法是有意识地意识到这一点。 在生活更不稳定的时代，人们对待死亡的态度现在看起来似乎有些病态。 我不确定为什么，但是不断提醒自己死神徘徊在每个人的肩膀上，似乎不是正确的答案。 也许更好的解决方案是从另一个角度来看问题。 养成想做的事情“立刻去做”的习惯。 不再等待有机会再去爬山，或写书，或去看望母亲。 您无需经常提醒自己为什么不应该等待。 别等待就对了。
I can think of two more things one does when one doesn't have much of something: try to get more of it, and savor what one has. Both make sense here.
How you live affects how long you live. Most people could do better. Me among them.
您怎么生活会影响您的寿命。 大多数人可以做得更好。 我也是。
But you can probably get even more effect by paying closer attention to the time you have. It's easy to let the days rush by. The "flow" that imaginative people love so much has a darker cousin that prevents you from pausing to savor life amid the daily slurry of errands and alarms. One of the most striking things I've read was not in a book, but the title of one: James Salter's Burning the Days.
但是，更关注自己的时间开销，您可能会获得更大的效果。 让日子匆匆过去很容易。 富有想象力的人们如此喜欢的“流水”状态像一个黑暗精灵，让你不能在日常的差事和警报中停下来品尝生活。 我读过的最让人震惊的，不是在一本书里，而是一本书的标题：詹姆斯·索尔特的《燃烧的日子》。 （译者注：darker cousin是指dark cousin电影吗）
It is possible to slow time somewhat. I've gotten better at it. Kids help. When you have small children, there are a lot of moments so perfect that you can't help noticing.
让时间变慢，在一定程度上是可能的。 这方面我做得挺好。孩子们给了我帮助。 当您有小宝贝时，一定有很多美好的时光，是您不会错过的。
It does help too to feel that you've squeezed everything out of some experience. The reason I'm sad about my mother is not just that I miss her but that I think of all the things we could have done that we didn't. My oldest son will be 7 soon. And while I miss the 3 year old version of him, I at least don't have any regrets over what might have been. We had the best time a daddy and a 3 year old ever had.
从过往的经验中获得了经验，这也会对你有帮助。 想起母亲时，我感到难过的原因不仅在于我想念她，还在于我想到我们原本可以做很多事情，但我们却没有做过。 我的大儿子快七岁了。 当我想念他3岁的样子时，我至少没有任何遗憾。 我们度过了一个父亲和三岁孩子应有的最佳时光。
Relentlessly prune bullshit, don't wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That's what you do when life is short.
1 At first I didn't like it that the word that came to mind was one that had other meanings. But then I realized the other meanings are fairly closely related. Bullshit in the sense of things you waste your time on is a lot like intellectual bullshit.
1 起初，我不喜欢想到的这个词还有其他含义。 但是后来我意识到其他含义和主题也是密切相关的。 在浪费时间的这个意义上，“废话”也像智力上的胡话。
2 I chose this example deliberately as a note to self. I get attacked a lot online. People tell the craziest lies about me. And I have so far done a pretty mediocre job of suppressing the natural human inclination to say "Hey, that's not true!"
2 我故意选择这个例子作为对自己的提醒。 我在网上受到了很多攻击。 人们说了很多关于我的疯狂的谎言。 到目前为止，我做的只是刚刚及格，基本保持了克制并尽量不去冲动的回应：“嘿，那不是真的！”
Thanks to Jessica Livingston and Geoff Ralston for reading drafts of this.
感谢Jessica Livingston和Geoff Ralston阅读了这份草稿。