Time Is Running Out
I don’t mean to be a doomsayer or to shock or scare you into action, but time is running out.
I say this as a simple statement of fact. We have a limited amount of time, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Most of us get seventy-some years (although that’s nothing to count on), and that might sound like a lot. But of that time, we spend a quarter of it growing up, another third of it sleeping, and yet another third of it making money so we can eat and sleep in some semblance of comfort. Unless we’re fortunate enough to have a job that we love, that leaves about a fourth of our total time to do what we want to do.
It’s important to think about how you use that time. Whether you want to think about it or not, you’re going to die someday.
Contrary to our beliefs—or more accurately, our wishful thinking—there is not plenty of time to get done what we want to get done. We have a limited time to create the life we want. We will all die with unfinished lists.
And yet, how do most of us use our most precious commodity? Shopping. Playing video games. Watching sports, movies, and reality television. We spend so much time distracting ourselves from the things that really matter, we’ve largely forgotten what those things are.
I was at a friend’s house a couple of Sundays ago. They had a small football party, something I’m only casually interested in. When “their” team fumbled a pass, one of the other guests stomped out of the room and I heard him punching something—I think a wall—in another part of the house. A door slammed hard, shaking the whole house, then it was awkwardly quiet.
“Gosh,” I said. “Did he have money on the game or something?”
“Oh no,” answered the hostess. “We just take our football very seriously.”
As utterly infantile as I found this, I also found it terribly sad. Here’s a person who’s not only distracting himself, but has picked exactly the wrong thing to feel strongly about.
I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I certainly have my own version of distractions that I spend way more time on than is probably good for me. But this football incident really got me thinking about how distractions have become the main events for so many of us, and that when this is the case, we completely miss the deeper meaning of our lives, often running out of time before we figure that out.
I’m not saying that we should never have fun or entertain ourselves. Of course we should, and we should do that in any way we find enjoyable (as long as it isn’t self-destructive or harmful to others). But if entertainment takes too big a place in our lives, we cease to grow, to learn, to become more sophisticated, more whole beings. If entertainment takes too big a place, we’ll end up looking back when we’re old (if we’re fortunate enough to get there) and regretting all the things we never did.
I’m also not saying that everybody should spend all their free time on personal growth, reading self-help books and meditating, striving for a continuous state of self-improvement. That could take all the playfulness out of life, and it could also indicate a sort of self-rejection, a sense that you aren’t good enough the way you are, which is not the point of personal development. (See here for a discussion about this.)
What I am saying is that we should do what we want, but that we have to be honest with ourselves about what that is. This can be hard to do, though, for two reasons. The first is that our culture places a high value on distractions. I love Eric Hoffer’s quote, “We can never have enough of that which we really do not want.” Take one quick look at popular culture, with its shopping malls full of cheaply manufactured crap and its new religion of celebrity, and you can see what he meant. Distractions are everywhere. They line the interstates, bark at us from television, blink at us from our computer screens. Everywhere we go, temptations to ignore our inner voice cry out to us. And the more we give in to them, the less time we have to go inward and find out what that voice is really saying.
And that is the second reason it’s hard to be honest with ourselves: doing so means we’ll have some unpleasant tasks ahead of us: facing the truth, confronting demons, overcoming fears. Yikes. Who wants to do that stuff? By the state of our culture, I’d say not so many. Introspection has almost become a dirty word. Yet without it, we never get anything we truly want; how could we possibly, if we haven’t taken the time to figure out what that is?
None of us, not on any meaningful level, really give a damn about the outcome of a ball game or TV show. If these distractions were removed from our awareness, our lives would change very, very little. And when we’re old, looking back on our lives, nobody’s going to say, “I wish I’d spent more time watching football.” They may wish they’d spent less time at the office (the original version of this quote), but only if they had a job they hated. Certainly nobody is going to say, “I wish I’d spent less time pursuing my life’s dream,” even if that dream is a lot of work. Because our life’s dream is the one thing we really do give a damn about, whether we have the courage to own up to it or not.
We all have desires, dreams, and goals. Even if we haven’t taken the time to figure out what they are yet, they’re there. So when you’re old and you look back on your life, these are the things that will feel good to see. Even if you try something and fail, you will have a sense of satisfaction at the memory of the effort. But if you never try, you will feel only regret. Play is important, but our dreams and desires infinitely more so. I would submit, in fact, that pursuing our dreams is play. Play of the highest form. Play that leaves us feeling full rather than empty.
So enjoy yourself, but remember that time is running out. Before it’s gone, you may want to give some serious thought to separating the distractions from the dreams, and take action accordingly.