12 Oct 2015
Time Defines Us.
This article is the result of 102 minutes of my life according to the stopwatch on my iPhone. These minutes have helped to define who I am. I am the discarded and accepted ideas that this piece contains or once contained. I am the corrected typos, and the time lost to indecision as to what I should say next. I am the ebbs and flows between anxiety and confidence that I am starting to understand are part of being a writer.
For 102 minutes, my keyboard and I have been colluding to turn something swirling around in my head into something that can swirl around in yours. I chose to spend this time this way because I hoped I would be better for having given these ideas my attention and focus. I chose to spend this time this way because I hoped you, dear reader, would get something out of having spent the time reading what I have to say.
How we choose to use our time moment by moment defines who we are and who we will become. I find this truth both interesting and terrifying.
I am a planner by nature. I like to think through what will happen and when. I like to make mental flow charts with all the errors and edges accounted for. This predilection for planning has always seemingly disagreed with advice I have been given around focusing on the present moment. I spent years under the impression that you could either be presentist or planner, but not both.
I started to believe that advice around staying in the present moment was meaningless to anyone who wanted to get anything done. For most of my life getting things done meant looking forward and learning from the patterns of the past. The present moments flew by without me much noticing. Everything was a longer con than one moment could impact.
But I was wrong to put the present moment into that small a box. I have finally come around to understand that whatever we do with the present moment is who we are. I have finally come to understand that we are always changing, always morphing, always a slightly different person than one moment earlier.
I have spent the last ten months tracking my time, reflecting deeply on what I do, when, how much and why. I have had the opportunity to discuss time with friends, family and strangers as a result of this work and I am still somewhat shell shocked by what I have come to realize both about myself and about those around me.
I have come to understand that many people see time as a hardship, a burden and a chore to dwell on, to wait on, to wade through, to manage and to resent.
I feel like I have been let in on a little secret: Time is truth. But with this quickly came the realization that many people don’t want to talk about time because they don’t want to face their truth.
I have talked to people who want to keep telling themselves stories about how time is in their way, never on their side. I have met people who truly believe that their life happens in the overflow of what time allows.
I have found that many people want to talk about concepts like life hacks, time management, efficiency, work/life balance and productivity in a vacuum of an unreachable perfect life and then they want to return to riding on time’s back toward wherever it decides to take them next.
I have also learned that there are good and fundamentally human reasons for all this avoidance and anxiety when it comes to time.
Time is a scary concept. No matter what age you are or what you choose to do with your life, time is something you can’t escape. We know from a young age that time is of limited supply, and yet we never know how little or how much we have left. No matter how hard we try to predict what will happen, when it will happen or how, time often has other plans we are not privy to until in the present moment.
I believe there are at least two modes for dealing with the uncertainty of our time.
Mode 1: Surf the Uncertainty
The first mode is to give in and ride uncertainty like a wave towards the whatever. People who are set to this mode believe that they were dealt a hand and now they are playing it out. People set to this mode put off change for another day, which will surely be an easier day than today. They stay in jobs they hate, they continue to spend time and heart on people who are bad for them, they keep behaving in ways they know are harmful or counter to who they wish they were. They seem to be waiting for change to be doled out, and are often left disappointed that today was not the day the world changed them.
I believe that people set to this mode are so because they believe that what they have is all they can ever have. For those in this mode, fate is written and their days are numbered.
Mode 2: Become the Uncertainty
Have you ever met someone who seems to have the confidence to be ok with whatever awful thing is happening in their life? They have just been diagnosed with cancer, and still seem to have smile on their face. They have just lost a loved one and yet they keep going towards their goals. They get laid off and manage to see it as a blessing in disguise.
These people are not unburdened by the dramas that uncertainty has dropped on their laps. They are not repressing their reality. Instead they are embracing the uncertainty, and they are becoming it.
People with their hearts and minds set to the second mode are willing to move heaven and earth to live the life they hope for. They are willing to keep trying even when trying feels like more effort than it is worth given the current climate. Sometimes they get what they want, sometimes they fail and resolve themselves to try again. They inflict uncertainty onto themselves because they see it as a superpower.
I have been lucky to be brought up by and surrounded by people primarily set to this second mode. I have also had the opportunity to watch people I care about flip the mode switch, taking a stab in the dark at their hopes after years of riding the wave of uncertainty.
This mode isn’t one we set once. We spend our lives vacillating between these two modes. This mode gets reset each day as our eyes flutter open and can flip with every breath or step that we take.
If you feel uncertain, welcome to the club. We all feel that way. If you feel like you are riding the uncertainty instead of becoming it, flip the switch just for a moment and be what happens next.