Not long ago, I was walking across the campus at NFCC when a young student asked me the time. I glanced at my wrist watch and told her the current time. That seemed to satisfy her curiosity and we both went about our separate business. But something bothered me about this encounter – who doesn’t know what time it is?
You may have heard of time referred to as the fourth dimension (after length, width and height). Time is second nature to me. About the only time I’m not wearing a watch is when I’m in the shower or the pool. If I spent a lot of time in the water, I’d probably own a diver’s waterproof watch.
I probably got my first wrist watch when I was 13 or 14. It was a Waltham and a good watch for those days. Today, watches are so much more plentiful and affordable. For maybe $20, you can buy a watch that will keep good time and last for 2-3 years before the battery or band gives out and you need to purchase a replacement. Of course, you can pay thousands of dollars for a real quality watch that doubles as a handsome piece of jewelry, but I don’t know that it would keep time more reliably over the short run than the $20 variety.
My military training really indoctrinated me into how important time was. In my first summer as an Air Force cadet, our upperclassmen took away every ability we had to tell time – watches, clocks, alarms, etc. The theory was, ‘we will tell you where you need to be and what you need to wear with 5 minutes to spare.’ Under those circumstances, you quickly learn how to move and organize your life. Once the first summer was finished and we were into the academic year, they returned our watches and clocks. We now knew how to properly organize our time and promptly be on or ahead of schedule.
After graduation when I went to flight school, time became paramount in mission planning and execution. When you are traveling at 540 knots, a second worth of time means that you have traveled nearly a thousand feet. Knowing precisely how much time has elapsed is vital to knowing where you are and what is supposed to happen next. Aviators call it “situational awareness.” It is vital to stay ahead of the aircraft; when you fall behind the jet, it is all but impossible to catch up.
I haven’t flown a fast-moving jet fighter in nearly thirty years, so my life has slowed considerably, but the habits of knowing where you are; what time it is; and what to expect next haven’t changed. It is easier to compute because life is slower, but the fundamentals are the same.
Back to my cadet days, I worked for a young officer by the name of Arlo P. Wenstrand who had a maxim I’ve never forgotten: “If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.” I hate to be late. I hate to have people wait on me. I think if you’re chronically late, it is a sign of arrogance like, ‘my time is more important than your time.’
Here’s a tip for young people who are interviewing for a job: don’t be late … ever. It is better to arrive an hour early for an interview than one minute late.
About three centuries ago, accurate time pieces were a rarity and they were vital for navigation at sea. It was easy to tell latitude (north-south) from the angle of the sun, but longitude (east-west) was often a guess. In the late 18th Century, English clockmaker John Harrison invented the marine chronometer which greatly improved navigation at sea.
It is so much easier today to know the time than when I was a lad. Our cellular phones tell us the time and warn us of appointments. Watches are cheap. When the battery finally gives out, throw it away and spend another $20 and you’re good to go.
Don’t forget the basics: always know the time of day; know your schedule; be on time.