Time is Running Out: Here’s How to Make the Most of It

Class in Session

Class is in Session

The last four months have been an education, as if I have been conducting and taking my own master’s class in Life. It has been a journey punishing, joy-filled, and above all, eye-opening. One of the greatest lessons I have learned may sound like a cliche but bear with me. Life is not about the “time” we have but what we DO with it.

When you are working, you believe that “not working” will give you a tremendous amount of time, but that oasis turns out to be a shimmering mirage. Similar to the adage about how people always spend what they earn, likewise, none of the time you have turns out to be “extra”. Entire days have gone by and I haven’t found time to respond to email. I get to the end of the day and feel as exhausted as I did putting in a full day’s “work”. Aristotle was right- Nature abhors a vacuum.

I want to share an idea that may especially resonate with parents but holds true for all. Everyone has an equation that looks something like this:

Parenting + spouse + work – crazy (from the previous 3 things) + self care/ TIME – (bills * laundry * school lunches * gym * sleep) = _______?

What’s the answer? Balance, Happiness, Perfection? Sorry- you think String Theory is hard?  It has nothing on solving the equation of Your Life.

We are searching for the right equation

We are searching for the right equation

What variable can we tweak to get it right? The stark truth is, you’ll never solve it completely. EVER. Hate to break it to you, but go ahead and write this down in pen. The problem is, you will not get all the time you want. If you had no kids, no spouse, no job, no obligations- you’d still find your time card punched, even if it was watching utterly worthless reality television all day. You’d still be worn out at the end of each day (and perhaps suicidal, given THAT much Real Housewives or Honey Boo-Boo).

As I prepare to “graduate” from this self-imposed master’s class and look ahead to my next work challenge, I am faced with an array of choices- contract work, part-time work, full-time work, big company, startup, low pay, high pay, mentally-stimulating, dull but easy, sure thing, high risk- you name it. Regardless of the choice I make, I will trade-off or sacrifice something. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every choice, there is a consequence.

When I wrote about giving up my superpower, it was the beginning of understanding that trying to “do it all” is a fool’s errand- there is no such thing as “ALL”. You finally figured out how to manage work, kids, and your spouse… Great, how about adding a puppy? Or working out? Or healthy meals? You don’t want to add anything? Guess what- you’ve lost your job.  You are getting a divorce. Your kid was expelled. Whatever. The variables go on forever. You will never reach “the end” until THE END.

Life is so immense and beautiful because of the endless possibilities, and yet, it those endless possibilities that make it brutally sadistic. Ha, ha, ha, the joke is on us!

The joke is on us.

The joke is on us. Start laughing now

I clearly remember in my teens, realizing that I would *never* be able to read all the best books in the world- not all books, even reading just the best ones would be beyond my reach. It felt like something died within me. I was defeated by the ABC’s- something I thought I had mastered at five.

Our time on this magical blue-green rock is limited, whether you think your life is cut from a cosmic cloth of fixed length or that you control your destiny. There is a point at which the fabric no longer stretches but snaps and that will be the end of it.  Even if you believe in an afterlife, you are only getting one turn on THIS ride, with THESE people you love, and these FINITE minutes to spend.

So the question comes back to what we choose to do with our time. Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to humbly suggest a few ways to make the most of it:

1. Know what MATTERS to you. Is it family, friends, success, invention, creation, inner peace, exploration, leaving a legacy? Take the time to understand what you care about. This one is hard… put some effort into it. Write it down and check your actions against your list.

2. Laugh.  Often. Loud. At yourself. With your friends. With your kids. From the gut. Use your whole body. Laugh ’til you cry.

3. Strive. If you are one of the lucky few given the chance to reflect upon your life at the end of many long years, there will be a moment when you account for your time, when you measure what you’ve done against what you have been given. Don’t let the tally of your effort come up short.

4. Forgive easily and forget quickly.  Whatever baggage you carry, it isn’t helping. You have been through it, gnashed your teeth at it, survived it, triumphed over it- let it go. All it’s doing now, is weighing you DOWN. Travel light.

5. Hold your own hand. Treat yourself as you would your own child. Remember that we all screw up. We learn as we go. We will let ourselves and others down- A LOT. Give that kid inside you a break. Give yourself a bear hug. Babies and Yogis know the magic of holding yourself- you will be surprised how good it feels. <Now, would be a good time to try it- even just a little squeeze of your hands.  C’mon, no one is looking.>

6. Flow.  The river of life is no tame kiddie pool. There are rapids, eddies, whirlpools, stretches as smooth as glass, and cruel white waters that threaten to pull you into the river’s black depths- you have to flow through it all. Float or swim, cling to the river bank or strike out for the middle- whatever you choose, close your eyes and feel the flow.

That’s all I have. But I’d appreciate YOUR thoughts and feedback! If this helped you, made you smile, or made you think- I’d sure appreciate you sharing! Tweet! Post! Discuss! Blog!

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

About jenlocati

JENNIE LOCATI started her blog, WYS Words as a way to share her experiences as a professional woman, wife, mother, and irrepressible “do-gooder”. Her diverse life experiences have taken her to Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer, the trading floors of Wall Street, to PATH, and most recently back to Microsoft, where she works in Executive Communications. Jennie shares her many misadventures, occasional insights, and unique perspectives in a voice that is self-deprecating, honest, and authentic. Read more at www.wyswords.com

Posted on August 1, 2013, in Big Ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. enjoyed your thoughts on holding your own hand. reading a book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (on being a writer. she is hilarious, honest and your best friend if you want to write.) she was commenting on this, in regards to writing and being hard on ourselves, we need to learn how to be more compassionate company to ourselves as if we were someone we were fond of. hope you’re well, keep writing!
    kelly cowan

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  2. Beautifully summed up, Jen.

    I often ask myself the old cliché — “What do I want on my tombstone” — the answer to that question always helps me focus on what really matters.

    And to Korey – at least you stayed up to watch Dexter. I tortured myself with 2 season of Glee in 3 days…shame….

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  3. Really well stated, Jennie. Spells out the truism “there’s never enough time” perfectly and is exactly the right context. I’ve found in my travels that everything I thought I’d just have time for, I still don’t. So it still comes down to a daily issue: what are the few important things I want to ensure I do, and how do I let go of the 2 billion other things I *want* to do, but just won’t take the time for?

    Of course, I never intended to stay up until 4am finishing the last episodes of Dexter. It just happened.

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  4. Frances Carhart

    Enjoyed reading your blog this morning. A good reminder of how to appreciate the present without anticipating the future. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  5. When I read #2, I could hear your fabulous laugh ringing out loud and clear, like you were right beside me 🙂 And I gave myself a little shoulder hug at my desk… it does feel good!

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