Formula For The Day: Life = X–X(Z/X)

February 18, 2010

Each person has a fixed number of days to live; it is an abstract thought but one worth examining.  Thankfully, we don’t know that number, but we have it nonetheless.  Given that it’s unknown, let’s call it “X.”  Think about a historical figure, Benjamin Franklin for instance, he lived 30,580 days so that is his X number.  Other than instances of self-destruction, we have no absolute control over X.  Even if we did, it would still be X.

“What good is knowing this?” you might ask yourself about now.  You need to understand life does not last forever, at least here on earth.  The argument regarding life post-earth, though interesting, is for another day.  You also need to understand that you do not control X, as a whole, but you do control the individual days that make up your X.  Franklin did not control X either; just like you, his control was over how he spent each day.  Given the vast volume of work he produced, he did not waste many.

That is the point, it is not the number of days lived that matters, it is what you fill them with that holds value.  Looking at it another way, wasted days do not add value to life, so why count them.  That is where the title’s formula comes in; it calculates the days that matter by removing the days that don’t (Z).  Now, some smart math genius will point out that my formula is overly complex and X-Z will accomplish the same thing.  While that is true, people often refuse to believe simple things hold any value, besides “Life = X-Z” is not nearly as catchy.

How will you reduce the number of Z-days you have; are you one to sit idly by as more and more slip away?  Another point, the closer you are to X, the more important Z becomes.  We cannot have our Z-days back, once spent they are gone forever.  The good news is no one can define for you what a Z-day is, that is something you must do for yourself.  For some, simply reading may be enough to hold a Z at bay, for others reading may be the very definition of a Z-day.  Some days are filled with work; they have value, though they may not be fun.  A wasted day is one where you sit around bored for no reason.  Think about that the next time you have nothing to do and reach for the remote control and have a mind-numbing experience.  Wasted days are not limited to boredom; they include the days we allow petty obstacles to eat away at our time, obstacles like holding a grudge and allowing that to isolate us from the ones that care about us.  Life is hard enough without making it harder on ourselves.

Regardless of what you do, avoid wasting a day in useless pursuits that, in the end, add nothing to the quality of your life.  We will all have our share, for sure, even Franklin did, but we can reduce the number by simply doing things that matter.  Think about what matters to you, spend your days on that.  Keep your Z-days low.  Remember, it is not about how many days you have, but how you choose to fill them.


  1. An excellent bit of counsel here. I just watched “Lewis and Clark” and Meriwether Lewis was lamenting that he had wasted too much of his life without contributing anything more than he had at 30 years old…after the greatest exploration into the unknown wilderness in recent history and pioneering the route for the doubling of the United States in size. Afterwards, he fell into deep self remorse over accusations of misappropriation of funds and personal debt and committed suicide.He was 35 years old. That is what I call cruel irony.

    • An amazing and tragic story. He obviously had a personality disorder. I would what he would be classified in the new DSM 5?

    • It is easy for us to forget the heroic figures from history were human, and for the most part, no different than ourselves. Even Einstein’s greatest works were early is his life, but he did not set the bar of worth so high that he continually had to best himself. It truly is a cruel irony that people who achieve great things often find it to be an albatross.

  2. All we can do is strive to increase the Z value with whatever days we have left.
    You’re right in that X is an indeterminate but finite number. The challenge
    is to work as if your X value is determined by the present day “Today.” So
    you need to ad another variable-That being the quality of life for each
    individual X value.It would be purely a subjective value; call it between 0
    to 100 and incorporate it into your equation. Then you need to provide “units.”
    Once you do this you will need to determine a proportionate constant- call
    it U. Think about that.

    • The whole object of the exercise it to reduce the number of worthless Z-days. As far as determining if a day has value or not, I think it is far too subjective and thus calls for a binary true or false determined by each of us. The inability of the formula to give partial credit can be seen as a weak point, but it is a “gallon chemistry” attempt in the first place. With equating X to today, days past are counted regardless, and days of tomorrow have only potential, that leaves us with today to deal with by default.

      • You’re an absolutist. Black/white, Rational/emotional,good/bad, right/wrong.
        Please notice the intrinsic description of the equation that utilizes the fractional symbol of “/”.
        It is empirically a designator of a ratio; therefore expressing a relative component of the equation. It is also very subjective in value. This is where the issue lies. An issue avoided by absolutists.

      • It would seem you are the one dealing with absolutes with regard to definitions. As the article in its entirety it meant metaphorically (i.e. equating life to a mathematical formula) it demonstrates I am anything but absolute as no metaphor can possible that to which it is compared.

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