Stop taking shortcuts through life

by: Harold Taylor

I moved to Sussex, New Brunswick less than three years ago from Markham, a large city adjoining an even larger city, Toronto, Ontario. There’s a walking trail in Markham that winds its way leisurely around a huge pond, through fields, a wooded area, along a gurgling stream, eventually emerging in the quaint village of Unionville.

People in the condo where I lived still negotiate its many twists and turns either on foot or on bicycle as they get their daily dose of exercise. A pleasant walk indeed. On occasion, I had even spotted the odd deer peering through the early morning mist.

But surprising at it may seem, I had also spotted shortcuts at every curve – paths beaten through the grass and wild flowers by walkers and cyclists who have been programmed by life to seek out the shortest distance between two points. Has the world gone completely mad? Why would someone whose sole purpose in the morning is to exercise or enjoy the outdoors want to take a shortcut?

Yet this is precisely what they do. And I was tempted many times as well when I saw this swooping arc in the path ending at the foot of a bridge a scant 50 yards straight ahead. Is the real purpose of this path to take a person from point A to point B in the shortest time possible? Forget the rippling stream and swaying branches, the colorful flowers and fluttering birds. Ignore the early morning mist and the animals scurrying for cover in the bushes. Let’s get to Unionville as fast as we can!

Upon reflection, we negotiate life the same way. We try to get through it in the least possible time. Who has time to smell the flowers? Just trample them underfoot as we carve another shortcut through life. Dictate into digital devices as we drive through the countryside. Scan magazines as your child skates his heart out for your approval. Mentally rehearse that sales presentation as you and your family eat breakfast in silence. Use your wireless handheld computer to collect e-mail at the beach. Make every vacation a working vacation, every social event a networking opportunity and every airline flight a chance to work undisturbed.

We are conditioned throughout our lives to hurry, be efficient, and not waste time. We are brainwashed by commercials that promote fast foods, speedy delivery and instant success. We are deluged with time saving appliances, super swift computers and precision watches that track time to the nth degree. We move faster, talk faster, work faster and live faster. Children grow up faster and grownups grow old faster. Time itself seems to be picking up speed.

It’s a beautiful life, but who has time to notice? Life expectancy has increased but its benefits have been nullified by our distorted perception of time. We are living faster than the speed of life. We are literally racing to our deaths.

Moving to Sussex, and changing my lifestyle, literally saved my life – or at least prolonged it – as mentioned in my recent book, How to Grow Older without Growing Old. But habits are hard to break, and one morning this winter I unthinkingly took a shortcut across an icy playground, resulting in a dangerous fall and subsequent concussion, bleeding, and surgery. Needless to say, any residual impulses to take shortcuts have been knocked out of my head for good.

If you are a participant in the rat race, get off the fast track. Let the die-hards pass you on the way to the finish line. The secret of life is not to be the one who finishes it first, but the one who gets the most out of it. Don’t live speedily; live abundantly. Time management is not doing more things in less time. It is doing more important things in the time that we have been given.

Who is to determine what is important? You are. It’s your time. It’s your life. And among other things, you may want to live it a little slower and savor the moments.

To those who resent taking a lunch hour away from work to attend a Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting or attend a golf tournament, I suggest you reconsider the impact it would have on your job, health and perspective on life.

And to my friends back in Markham, I suggest you may even decide that it’s more important to see those speckled trout gliding effortlessly between the rocks in that shallow stream than to arrive in Unionville before the stores open.

Harold L Taylor, owner of, is a member of the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce and a columnist with the Kings County Record,

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