(A large part of this post is a borrowed story shared at the end.)
Time is a curious thing - quite fascinating if you think about it - a manmade construct that is relatively clearcut. Unlike money, you don't get more time in your day just because you are rich or famous. It is a mode of "currency" or "exchange" or "energy" that has the same boundaries for everyone. We each get 24 hours - despite our age, gender, race, creed, occupation - until of course that one day we run out of it.
Time can drag on - when the night can't seem to come soon enough. Or we lose track of it and we don't pay attention to how we are using time - frivolously throwing around the word "busy." We hear people say things like, “I wish I could, but I don’t have time. I’ve been SO busy lately.”
Even though I keep my life pretty simple these days, I can still easily fall in to this trap. The reality is I have the same amount of time in my day as everyone else, and each day I make a choice on how I spend it.
I think sometimes people use the word "busy" like a badge of honor - especially when it is work that occupies most of their days. We are not at fault for this. Society values work. Culture applauds being busy. Busy = money. Money = success. Success = end goal.
There is a reason that we use the term "rat race" to describe the evolution of business, work, and that particular lifestyle. When we race, we are measuring time, and feeling like we are "out of time" is a big part of that racing feeling. Like we are always sprinting and running out of breath.
When I was working full time in the crazed office life environment, I often felt like I was on a hamster wheel. I didn't really know where I was going. I just knew I couldn't stop. Running, running, running - because a hamster on his wheel doesn't look left or right, he looks straight ahead to keep the wheel going. There is no luxury of stopping to daydream when you are on the wheel.
In fact, we are scared to stop running because we have been doing it for so long. We don’t know anything else. I remember a small quiet voice inside, telling me there might be another way, but I didn’t do anything about it because I had to pick up the pace. It is hard to question something while you are trying to keep up with it at the same time. We don't want to interrupt the flow, even if the flow is wrong.
I got really sick by trying to go with the wrong flow.
It's no wonder that time pressures and stress levels make us sick. How we spend our time is how we spend our lives and that directly correlates to the quality of our lives and our health. It's no secret that stress levels affect our health and well-being. Stress raises cortisol levels and elevated cortisol levels contribute to risk of chronic disease. Not to mention the devastating effects on our mental health...
So, my hamster wheel came to an abrupt stop. I had to jump off. Altogether. In order to see things - the world, myself, life - from a fresh perspective. I am grateful for this because otherwise I might not have ever released those blinders.
As a result, I have learned to make an effort to be more careful with this thing we call time.
Like this concept of "free time" ... We say, "I’ll get to it when I have some free time." But, isn’t time always free? The whole day is "free time." We have a clean slate. We choose to fill it up - maybe consciously or maybe not so consciously. Are you spending time on things that don’t make it feel like free time anymore? Things that don't make YOU feel free?
These days, some of the things I choose are long walks, feeding horses, putting my nose in those books I have always wanted to read, taking time to talk to a friend on the street, writing for fun, and of course quality time with my angel dog Harley.
Because... we always have a choice.
As a takeaway, I share one of my favorite parables below.
that it is okay to take your time.
Take it, take it, take it.
Treat it like it is yours. It is.
The Mexican Fisherman
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “Only a little while." The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
“Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” (“Anecdote concerning the Lowering of Productivity”), published by a German writer, Heinrich Böll, in 1963.