In 2005, Steve Jobs addressed Stanford’s graduating class with a powerful message that would resonate for years to come. He spoke about confronting his own mortality after a cancer diagnosis, prompting him to reflect on his life choices. Jobs famously posed a question that would become a guiding principle in his life: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?

As Jobs spoke, he faced a sea of young graduates, most in their early twenties. For many, time likely felt abundant, their futures stretching endlessly before them. In that moment, two vastly different perspectives on time collided – Jobs’ urgent awareness of life’s fragility and the graduates’ sense of time’s luxury. It was as if they were looking at the same hourglass, yet seeing entirely different things.

This stark contrast illuminates a profound truth: many of our interpersonal conflicts and societal tensions stem from mismatched perceptions of time. Our individual time perspectives whether we see the hourglass as half empty or full color our decisions, priorities, and interactions, often leading to misunderstandings and friction when they clash with others’.

We all have the same 24 hours each day, yet our perception of time can vary drastically. Some of us live with a constant sense of urgency, while others feel they have all the time in the world. For those living with urgency, every moment counts. They’re acutely aware of time’s finite nature, often due to personal experiences or circumstances. These individuals tend to prioritize ruthlessly, seek meaningful experiences, and take calculated risks. However, they may also struggle with anxiety or burnout.

On the flip side, those who feel they have the luxury of time often take a more relaxed approach to life. They’re more likely to explore various options before committing and invest in long-term projects. Yet, this perspective can sometimes lead to procrastination or missed opportunities. Neither perspective is inherently right or wrong. Both can lead to fulfillment or regret, depending on how they’re managed.

These conflicting time perspectives play out in various settings. Consider James, an expat in Italy for a three-year project. Aware of his limited time, James approached his stay with urgency, eager to immerse himself in the culture. However, he found himself frustrated by the leisurely pace of life in his new home. While James rushed to check experiences off his bucket list, locals savored long lunches and unhurried conversations. This clash of perspectives led to misunderstandings, with James feeling isolated and locals perceiving him as impatient.

The truth is, our relationship with time isn’t fixed. Life events, personal growth, or even a sudden realization can shift our perspective dramatically. The key is developing time wisdom – the ability to adapt our approach to time based on the situation at hand. Some days might call for urgency, like meeting a crucial deadline. Others might benefit from a slower pace, allowing for deeper reflection or creativity. The art lies in recognizing which approach serves us best in each moment.

Cultivating this nuanced relationship with time requires practice and self-reflection. By being present in each moment and regularly assessing whether we’re using our time in alignment with our values and goals, we can develop greater time wisdom. It’s also crucial to recognize that different phases of life might call for different approaches to time.

But what if we took this concept a step further? Imagine a world where time perception was as openly discussed and accommodated as dietary preferences or work styles. What if job listings included “hourglass perspective” as a factor, matching those who see time as scarce with fast-paced roles and those who see abundance of time with positions requiring long-term vision? How might our educational systems evolve if we recognized and nurtured different time orientations in students?

It’s important to acknowledge that categorizing people solely by time perception might have limitations. For example, someone who naturally leans towards urgency might benefit from learning to slow down and appreciate the present moment, while someone comfortable with a more relaxed pace might develop strategies for tackling tasks requiring a burst of focused energy.

Perhaps the ultimate time wisdom isn’t just about personal balance, but about creating a society that values and integrates diverse time perspectives. By seeking to understand and appreciate viewpoints different from our own, we might not only reduce personal stress and conflict but also unlock new levels of collective creativity and problem-solving.

As we navigate our journey through time, let’s remember Steve Jobs’ words not as a call to constant urgency, but as an invitation to align our actions with our deepest values, whatever our natural time orientation may be. In doing so, we might find that the real luxury isn’t having all the time in the world, but using our time – be it scarce or abundant in our eyes – in ways that truly matter to us.

After all, the hourglass is both half empty and half full at the same time. The question is: how will you choose to view yours?