Your Life in Weeks

This is a long human life in years:

A Human Life in Years

And here’s a human life in months:

A Human Life in Months

But today, we’re going to look at a human life in weeks:

A Human Life in Weeks

Each row of weeks makes up one year. That’s how many weeks it takes to turn a newborn into a 90-year-old.

It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks. But there they are—fully countable—staring you in the face.

Before we discuss things further, let’s look at how a typical American spends their weeks:

American Life in Weeks
Sources: [1]http://www.gallup.com/poll/168707/average-retirement-age-rises.aspx[2]http://www.babycenter.com/0_surprising-facts-about-birth-in-the-united-states_1372273.bc[3]http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/12/14/barely-half-of-u-s-adults-are-married-a-record-low/[4]http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-125.pdf[5]http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/

There are some other interesting ways to use the weeks chart:

Famous Deaths in Weeks

Woods and Federer in Weeks

Einstein and Newton in Weeks

But how about your weeks?

You in Weeks

 

Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.

Given that fact, the only appropriate word to describe your weeks is precious. There are trillions upon trillions of weeks in eternity, and those are your tiny handful. Going with the “precious” theme, let’s imagine that each of your weeks is a small gem, like a 2mm, .05 carat diamond. Here’s one:

.05 Carat Diamond
 
If you multiply the volume of a .05 carat diamond by the number of weeks in 90 years (4,680), it adds up to just under a tablespoon.

 

Spoonful of Diamonds
 
Looking at this spoon of diamonds, there’s one very clear question to ask: “Are you making the most of your weeks?”

In thinking about my own weeks and how I tend to use them, I decided that there are two good ways to use a diamond:

1) Enjoying the diamond

2) Building something to make your future diamonds or the diamonds of others more enjoyable

In other words, you have this small spoonful of diamonds and you really want to create a life in which they’re making you happy. And if a diamond is not making you happy, it should only be because you’re using it to make other diamonds go down better—either your own in the future or those of others. In the ideal situation, you’re well balanced between #1 and #2 and you’re often able to accomplish both simultaneously (like those times when you love your job).

Of course, if a diamond is enjoyable but by enjoying it you’re screwing your future diamonds (an Instant Gratification Monkey specialty), that’s not so good. Likewise, if you’re using diamond after diamond to build something for your future, but it’s not making you happy and seems like a long-term thing with no end in sight, that’s not great either.

But the worst possible way to use a diamond is by accomplishing neither #1 nor #2 above. Sometimes “neither” happens when you’re in either the wrong career or the wrong relationship, and it’s often a symptom of either a shortage of courage, self-discipline, or creativity. Sometimes “neither” happens because of a debilitating problem.

We’ve all had Neither Weeks and they don’t feel good. And when a long string of Neither Weeks happens, you become depressed, frustrated, hopeless, and a bunch of other upsetting adjectives. It’s inevitable to have Neither Weeks, and sometimes they’re important—it’s often a really bad Neither Week that leads you to a life-changing epiphany—but trying to minimize your Neither Weeks is a worthy goal.

It can all be summed up like this:

The Contents of Your Week

 

The Life Calendar

One of the ways we end up in NeitherLand is by not thinking about things hard enough—so one of the most critical skills is continual reflection and self-awareness. Otherwise, you can fall into an unconscious rut and waste a bunch of precious diamonds.

To help both you and ourselves stay conscious and avoid NeitherLand, we’ve created a Life Calendar that lays out every week of your life on one sheet of paper. We don’t typically bring products into posts, but in this case, they go hand-in-hand.

The calendar is a 24″ by 36″ poster on high-quality blueprint-style paper, made to be written on and last for decades. It costs $15 and you can buy it here.

Besides the purpose of encouraging regular reflection, we hope the calendar can help you feel more oriented in your life, help you set goals and hold yourself to them, and remind you to be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished and grateful for the diamonds in your spoon.

How you use the calendar is totally open for creativity. Some possibilities:

  • Highlight the weeks in the past in different colors to segment them into “life chapters”—i.e. High School, College, Job 1, Job 2, New City, Engagement, Marriage, etc., or maybe a whole other conception of what a life chapter means to you. You can also mark special boxes where key turning points happened.
  • Write something in each week’s box as it goes by—the boxes are about a square centimeter, which I was able to write six words in when I used a sharp pencil.
  • Plot out goals for the future by making a mark on a future box and visually seeing exactly how many weeks you have to get there.
  • If you’re a new parent, it might be fun to make one for your child so they can look at it later and have some info on what happened in the first few years of their life.
  • Or maybe you’d rather leave it totally untouched.

Both the week chart above and the life calendar are a reminder to me that this grid of empty boxes staring me in the face is mine. We tend to feel locked into whatever life we’re living, but this pallet of empty boxes can be absolutely whatever we want it to be. Everyone you know, everyone you admire, every hero in history—they did it all with that same grid of empty boxes.

The boxes can also be a reminder that life is forgiving. No matter what happens each week, you get a new fresh box to work with the next week. It makes me want to skip the New Year’s Resolutions—they never work anyway—and focus on making New Week’s Resolutions every Sunday night. Each blank box is an opportunity to crush the week—a good thing to remember.

The Calendar:

Calendar Button (HuffPost)

 

More ways to put life in perspective:

Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel

Putting Time in Perspective

The Fermi Paradox

Your Family: Past, Present, and Future

Meet Your Ancestors (All of Them)

Why You Shouldn’t Care What Other People Think of You

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97 comments - jump to comment field »

  1. John

    I LOVE IT when WBW digs deep. This post made me tremble with panic and bloom with inspiration all at once. Impressive. It also gave me a new anxiety: which poster to buy.

    • Gemmy B

      This was EXACTLY my reaction – a flash of panic and then almost instantly a renewed sense of purposefulness. Bravo!

  2. Herman

    You are amazing. Most of your posts always show me a different perspective of how to look at things.

  3. Katie

    At first I was really confused about Federer’s seven Grand Slam wins all in December, but then I realized “Week of the Year” started on the week of his birthday, not January 1st.

  4. Joy

    your post has me scared to count where I am, and how many (few) squares are left..

    It gave me a new perspective to the “teach us to number our days” verse in the bible.. wow..

  5. boso

    Right now I’m wondering if “being over-reflective” is possible. What do you (commenters) think?

    *continues rest of her day a bit dazed*

    • Zach

      Yes, take chances, make mistakes, and learn from everything you encounter. Don’t be afraid to experience something new, don’t think or talk about something, do it.

      Cheers

    • Anonymous

      Thinking about the outcomes and possibilities of an event can be just as inhibitive as doing nothing in the first place. One ends up sitting around thinking about what could be (or what has already happened) instead of *doing* it (or moving on to something else), thus wasting precious time.

  6. Sofi Berro

    Thank you Tim. I really needed a post like this. I was feeling a little lost, maybe a couple of Neither Weeks together, but you put the ‘YOLO’ and Carpe Diem kind of stuff, that now it somehow sounds silly, into beautiful and more inspiring words. I like your diamond weeks, and now I love mine.

  7. Flor

    This is one of the most interesting-and-clever-yet-simple things I’ve read in a long, long time. Awesome job.

      • RayRay

        Yeah, there’s no way two people would ever independently come up with the idea to plot out life visually and note major landmarks and accomplishments on it. Scandal!

        • Mike M.

          not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but there’s no question some of the stuff in the wbw post was not original. aside from the extremely similar visual presentation, there are plenty of other similarities including the plotting of events relating to mozart, einstein, etc.

          btw, i’m not saying wbw didn’t add value — the deliver is solid as usual, and the second half of the post that talks about Good weeks and Neither weeks was useful to me. I’m also not saying that wbw shouldn’t use information/concepts from other sources. I’m just feel like the other site deserved some credit.

          • RayRay

            That’s a pretty bold accusation, and I’m not buying it. Both made a square of months, which is the size that fits best into a comic pane. Mozart and Einstein are obvious references when talking about early accomplishments. Everything else about the two is different. WBW constantly references the work of others, don’t know why they’d choose to single out this comic to plagiarize.

            • Mike M.

              not to belabor the point, but mozart, enstein were just examples. there’s also coming of age, ave. age women have first child, marriage. way too many similarities to be independent invention.

              but you’re right that wbw seems pretty good about citing their sources. and obviously i don’t know why they didn’t in this case. maybe because they view it as a competing site. i don’t know. in fact, thinking about it more, i probably jumped the gun on the conclusion that they borrowed the material. there could a bunch of reasons why the two sites are similar. maybe a friend of wbw saw the other site, thought it was a cool idea, and told wbw to write about it without even telling wbw where he got the idea.

            • Wait But Why
              Wait But Why

              I’ll confirm that WBW has never seen that comic before—any similarities are coincidental. But I can definitely see why you would think we had. We don’t like when people plagiarize us and we’re diligent about never plagiarizing anyone else and always citing our sources.

  8. NepaGirl

    Still reeling in my shoes. I’m disturbed, saddened and inspired, all at the same time. This has shifted the paradigm I was ignorantly, and wastefully living my life on. Thank you for changing however many weeks I have left. I am humbled.

  9. RayRay

    The most jarring part of that little group of squares is that that’s what you get if you’re very, very lucky. Most of our spoons never had that many diamonds in them to begin with. A scary reminder to look in the mirror about how I live my life and make sure it’s the way I really want it to be. Nicely done!

  10. Josh

    You actually get fifteen extra weeks in 90 years. Because a year 365.25 days, every year is 52 weeks and 1.25 days. So every twenty-eight years you’d get 5 extra “leap” weeks (28*1.25=5).

    • Wait But Why
      Wait But Why

      I know. My perfectionist side was unhappy about this the whole time, but I wanted to keep things simple.

      • Chris B

        We really only get an extra day every year, and then 2 extra every 4. So it’s an extra week every 5.5 years or so. So, add an extra week every 5 then 6 years at the end, 5/6/5/6/5/6/5/6, which is 15 or 16 extra weeks!

  11. Dott

    I like this idea. But what about instead of constantly achieving our individual happiness, we achieve to make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling, achieving a long term goal is a great way to get more meaning out of our life, even if it is difficult and takes a lot of time. More about this here: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/meaning-is-healthier-than-happiness/278250/

    I’d like to see a Wait but Why article on this, and your take of this theory.

  12. KV

    Could you please make a digital version? I would pay for access to an online fillable form that I could also print out if I desired. But mostly I’d just want and online fillable form to easy input my past (which would be more likely take larger swaths of time, at least the way I would fill it out). Thanks!

  13. anon

    I read this post only a few hours before learning of the death of a family member who had nearly reached 90. This is a bittersweet one for me, because before then it really seemed to me that we have a long time on this earth, but when it is over, no matter how much of it you have had, it’s still heart wrenchingly sad.

  14. jan

    so much life wasted but being unaware of it or powerless to do anything different – like one of the posts above, this would have been useful 40 years ago – but having just yesterday watched someone of 95 run and do gymnastics, I have renewed hope. You just have to ‘intend’ to live to 100, then it feels like there are enough years ahead to do something worthwhile

  15. Robbie MacQuack

    Interesting read and some superb visualizations as usual…
    However, I think we already have too much of this kind of individualistic, “navel-gazing” perspective on life – and not too little. It is based on a set of ideological concepts which also underlie much of mainstream economic theory. The concept of choice is one of them – assuming that we are indeed solely responsible for the way our individual lives unfold. This is highly questionable, even in societies which, at least in theory, emphasize individual freedom as much as the US. A few years ago, Renata Salecl gave a brilliant talk about this idea and its implications at the RSA in London (available online). Then there’s the idea of “spending our life”, which treats our existence as merely a scarce resource, which needs to be utilized to maximize a certain output (such as happiness). Even if presented in beautiful form (with diamonds in a spoon – kudos!), I find this idea not only disturbingly devoid of meaning, but ultimately also counterproductive even by its own utilitarian standards. Or is one really likely to achieve more happiness in one’s lifetime by always scrutinizing the outcome of individual weeks?
    Instead, to me this recalls your portrayal of Lucy, the Generation Y Yuppy who ends up being depressed because she falls so awfully short of her assumed maximum “output” possible, however ridiculous that assumption might have been, and because she sees herself as the only agent in her life – hence she is the one to blame for the disaster her life has shaped up to be. This kind of “navel-gazing” is a bit like Stoicism gone completely wrong. Instead of more, it makes us less resilient in the face of life’s calamities,
    Might we not be better off turning our attention away from our navels and embracing human existence as a common experience and our happiness as highly dependent on other people? After all, it means that we, too, are agents in a multitude of other lives. Not only might looking at life as a collective endeavour make us more happy, but it also seems to me to be the only way we can solve the problems facing all of humanity today (i.e. resource depletion, climate change, global social injustice).

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  22. bottedi

    Please make a t-shirt with a blank version and/or versions from this post. I’d buy it and update my week using some sort of sticker!

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  35. Anonymous

    This literally made me cry. Peter Pan complex at an all-time high. Gives a lot of realization to how much life we are wasting as well…

  36. Tara

    I was disturbed by the need to think about this at first, until I realized it came with an action plan. Most excited about bonus weeks. You know, when you get past the 90 mark and realize you don’t have to give a flying fig anymore. Got some good plans now set for those weeks.

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  49. Soraya

    Surely the point is not that your weeks are wasted if you fall short of an ideal, but that your weeks could each hold potential to improve your/another’s life. If you see the grid in terms of what you ‘ought’ to be filling it with, you quickly get into a state of solipsistic navel-gazing. But if, as I do, the squares are like little mirrors to emphasise that yes, you’ve spent another week not calling your mother, doing any meditation or watching ‘police interceptors’ on the telly… Then it can only be a positive life enhancing thing.

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  53. Greg Johnson

    I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve been given. But my life will always be hard I will Never be able to work and I will have a hard time finding a wife. Because I have a bad learning disability and I have a bad mental illness. But that does NOT Stop Me From Trying To Spread The LOVE OF JESUS CHRIST ALWAYS. PLUS I PRAY ALL THE TIME FOR A WIFE AND KIDS AND A SUCCESSFUL JOB AND ESPECIALLY FOR THE NEEDS OF THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF THE HOLY TRINITY. Besides I know you could NOT do any better if you were given my cross. In fact it would be to heavy for most people to carry Except For JESUS CHRIST who helps me carry my cross and JESUS CHRIST WILL HELP ANYONE CARRY THEIR CROSS FOR THEM. IF THEY ASK HIM AND HAVE THE FAITH OF AT LEAST OF A MUSTARD SEED. BUT FIRST WE HAVE TO PICK UP OUR CROSS OR CROSSES AND FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST IF WE WANT TO GET TO HEAVEN. ALSO REMEMBER WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS YOU MAKE LEMON AID WITH IT.

  54. Martine Frampton

    There are, as my daughter so rightly pointed out, 4696 weeks in 90 years (approximating 22 leap years) whereas this chart assumes an even 52 weeks a year, not 52 weeks and 1 day. There needs to be an extra 16 squares.

    • ENTP

      You’re missing the whole point.

      It’s not a chart trying to accurately depict exactly how many weeks there are in 90 years. It’s a chart showing you what your life looks like at the scale of weeks rather than the using the yearly hallmarks that are so familiar — graduate at 18, 4 years of college, married by 30, retire by 65.

      If you focus on short-term goals they add up to long term accomplishments. If anything the chart is not showing how little time we have (in years) but rather how much time we have in weeks — if only we could stop procrastinating because of “big picture” expectations.

      Besides if you really wanted to specify leap weeks you would have to stick them as an extra square or two at the rightmost column. We live the extra leap weeks in our lives….they don’t suddendly bunch up at the end.

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