How many Olympic athletes will win or lose by a second? It will be so close for some, maybe even a pimple on the nose could mean a victory or defeat. When it comes to winning or losing a gold medal, one second can and does make a huge difference. You also, personally, know this to be true because we all have had experiences similar to the one my wife, Kathy, and I recently had.

After visiting Kathy’s sister in Havenwood, located on Delton Avenue, we were headed north to Paul Bunyan Drive. Within two blocks of Paul Bunyan, a car going east to west on 21st Street came barreling through a stop sign going at least 50 mph. Had I not slammed on my brakes while carefully looking at the intersection, the speeding car would have T-boned us. I am sure Kathy would have been seriously hurt being on the passenger side if not killed. My car would have been totaled and I would still be in the hospital. All of this happened within a second.

How much is a second? Actually, it’s a pretty long time. The answer, simply, is that a second is 1/60th of a minute, or 1/3,600th of an hour. When we say, “Just wait a minute,” it often seems like a long time because it is a long time, 60 seconds.

Much can happen within one second. It only takes one second to make a decision to stop smoking or to say “no” to that last drink or that one beer. It takes one second to ask your kids to say their prayers. It takes one second to tell your mother, father, wife or husband that you love them. It takes one second to remind your kids that they need to graduate from high school.

Today computers perform operations at the rate of 4 billion cycles per second or 4 nanoseconds. A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second. That is definitely short considering a blink of an eye is only 1/12 of a second.

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I used to tell my teachers that they could become the best teachers in the world in one nanosecond. I over emphasized the “nano” second because I wished for them to listen to how this is possible. I went on to say, “From this moment on, stop doing anything that is less than excellent.” If you were to talk with any teachers, they could list for you all of the traits associated with good teaching and all of the traits associated with not so good teaching.

An excellent teacher is one who religiously tries to incorporate all of the qualities of good teaching. Making a decision to do it takes less than a second. The same can be said about management, about nursing, about being a good student, about being a good electrician, mechanic or plumber. The decision to stop doing anything less than excellent can be made in less than a second.

How much time do we waste just waiting in line, waiting on the phone to talk to a technician, waiting for food, or waiting to see a doctor or dentist? If we were to put all of those seconds together in just one day, how much time would you have? What would you do with it?

What can you accomplish in one second? The answer is, quite a lot. Let’s just suppose you were given back just 10 seconds of your life and you could do anything for each of those 10 seconds. What would you do?

I would tell my mom and dad how much I loved them.

I would tell my Uruguayan family how much I appreciated them during the two years I stayed with them.

I would make a decision to try harder in all of my athletic teams.

I would make a decision to take my kids to Walt Disney World.

I would make a decision to learn the Ojibwe language.

I would make a decision to tell the teachers who I have worked with over the years how much I appreciated them.

I would give my grandparents a hug.

I would make a decision to take my kids to Guatemala.

I would make a decision to focus on increasing graduation rates much sooner.

I would tell my wife I love her more often than I do.

Of the 10 you listed, ask yourself, which ones can you still do? More importantly, can you stop doing what you shouldn’t be doing?

There is a cute TV episode with Bob Newhart where he plays a counselor. He charges just $5 for five minutes of advice because that’s all it takes to cure them of the problems they have.

A woman walks into his office and tells him that she is afraid of being buried alive in a box. After hearing her story, he tells her to listen very closely because he has two words that will help her. Newhart asks, “Are you ready?” She says, “Yes.” Newhart shouts, “Stop it!” She says, “What do you mean?” Newhart says, “Stop it! Stop believing that you will be buried alive in a box. What are you, some kind of kook? Just stop it!”

Although there is humor in what Newhart says, there is also some truth. It just takes less than a second to say “Stop it” to ourselves and change direction. If you are not being appreciative of your family, just “stop it” and be more appreciative. If you are smoking too much, just “stop it” and do something that will help you quit smoking. If you think you are too shy, just “stop it” and do things that will make you less shy.

This is over simplifying some serious issues, but the decision to change course can take only a second and in some cases, it is the matter of life and death.

I was selling some baseball cards to a young man at the recent Grand Rapids swap meet. He asked me to come down in price. I noticed a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket and I said, “I will do it if you promise to stop smoking.” It only took me a second to say that. How much time does it take to tell a young person who carries out your groceries, “Don’t forget to graduate?”

It takes a second to cast your line in the water just one more time before calling it quits. One year I caught my biggest walleye of the season on that last cast. You will be surprised what you can do or say with that one very, very long second. Our Olympic athletes know all about seconds. Watch and you will see. Oh, by the way, it takes one second to get vaccinated.

Riddle: Why do the French eat snails? (Answer: They don't like fast food. A second really isn’t all that fast. Used wisely, it can make a big difference in your life.)

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Dropping out of school has serious consequences for students and their families. Students who decide to drop out of school face social stigma, fewer job opportunities, lower salaries and higher probability of involvement with the criminal justice system. They also die earlier.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.