If You Waste Your Time, You Waste Your Life

Tom Stevenson


Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

This year has felt like the longest and shortest year I’ve ever experienced. Thinking back to March, before we went into lockdown here in the UK, it feels like it lasted forever.

It seemed to drag on for what felt like a lot more than 31 days. I remember being halfway through the month and feeling like it had been March forever. When March finally turned into April, it felt like the beginning of another year, such was the feeling that it had always been March.

Of course, this March wasn’t any longer than any other March I’ve experienced. It was simply to do with the situation we were living in. The pandemic was gathering pace and as this was a new experience for almost everyone on the planet, time seemed to slow down.

Think back to when you were a child. Time appeared to move slower than a tortoise. Years felt like they lasted forever. I remember looking at the clock during lessons in school and wondering how time could move so slowly. 25 minutes to the end of class felt like an eternity.

Theories abound as to why we feel like time moves much faster when we’re older than it ever seemed to when we were younger. One is the proportional theory which states that as you get older, each time period constitutes a smaller fraction of your life as a whole.

At the age of 30, a week seems a lot shorter than it was when I was 12, but that’s because a week back when I was 12, constituted a higher proportion of my life. Now, it is a much smaller part and will only continue to be so as I get older.

Nowadays, the weeks seem to fly by. When I was in school, they seemed to last for an eternity. The more routine our lives become and the more accustomed we become to the events that occur around us, the faster we perceive time to fly.

That’s what happened this year when we were placed in the unusual position of living through a pandemic and quarantining in our homes. The experience was new, so it seemed that March lasted much longer.

Now that we are accustomed to this state of affairs, the year is almost over. I can scarcely believe that we are in December. It feels like time has flown by since the initial lockdown nine months ago.

This is what can happen in life if you’re not careful. You can waltz through life, not realising what is going on and end up looking back and wondering where all the time has gone.

The problem is, we’ll never get that time back.

Alive Time vs Dead Time

The author

Robert Greene has a concept of alive time and dead time. This is a fight we are constantly waging as we go through life. We can choose to pursue tasks that make us feel alive and add value to our lives, such as reading, hiking or painting. Or we can choose dead time, which might be binging on a Netflix series.

This year, we’ve experienced this concept more than ever. For many of us, it’s felt like life has been on hold. That lockdown and being stuck in quarantine is a holding pattern until life gets back to ‘normal.’

Except this isn’t true. No matter what happens in the world, life carries on. The world does not stop turning, we do no get to claim those days back. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. You can either see the experience as an obstacle or an opportunity. Whichever one you see, determines the course of your life.

Time is a concept that many of us don’t understand. We always think that tomorrow will come, and while it will, there’s no guarantee we’ll be there to see it.

Our lives are but a blink in the eye of life of the cosmos. We tend to think we will live forever, but we’re here for such a short time, you’d have to strain to see it if the life of the universe up until now was charted on a graph.

The truth is, that we don’t value our time because we think we have plenty left. We believe that we can always do it later, that it doesn’t matter if we watch another episode, or skip the gym one day.

The problem is that life is happening now, in this instant. What we choose to do with our time is a reflection of ourselves. If we waste it, this suggests we are careless. But, if we take care of it, utilise it efficiently, it suggests that we’re able to grasp that life is an opportunity. One that we’d be foolish to pass over.

The bank of life

A good way of looking at time is to view it as a bank account. That instead of accumulating money, we are losing time every day. Except, we don’t have access to how much time we have left like we do with our money in the bank. Instead, we just know that we’re slowly running out of it.

The plot of the film, In Time, is loosely based around this construct. In the year, 2169, people have become genetically engineered to stop ageing on their 25th birthday, when a one-year countdown begins on a device located on their arm.

Time has become a universal currency, which is traded like money is today. Those who are the poorest have less than 24 hours left, while the rich have enough time to effectively be immortal.

Barring unforeseen advances in genetic engineering, we’re unlikely to ever experience anything like this. Yet, the premise of the film is instructive. The people who have less than 24 hours to live are desperate. They will do anything to have more time. While those who have the most time, essentially hoard it for the sake of hoarding it.

They’re happy to have the time, but they don’t appreciate the value of it. They don’t know what to do with it, because they have so much of it. Many of us live like this today, but we’re on a clock that is always ticking down until we meet our inevitable end.

It can feel macabre thinking about our mortality, which is probably why most of us choose not to. It’s easier to waste our time than confront the reality that we are running it down each day we’re on the planet.

Yet, it’s the fact that our existence is finite that pushes us forward. It’s what gives us the impetus to create, to dare and to do. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that time is even more valuable than I thought it was.

Instead of viewing it as a construct, we should view it as a tool. One that can be wielded to improve our lives, if we choose to. This is the crux of the matter, no one is going to come and save you from yourself.

If you waste your time, you’re not going to get it back. It’s up to you to take the reins and make the most of your life while you still have the chance. 2020 has shown us how fragile life is and how volatile our relationship with time can be. Even though we think we have all the time in the world, that’s often not the case.

We’re all faced with the same 24 hours. The same opportunity to utilise that time to use it to our own benefit. The choice is yours, will you make the most of your time, or will you waste it?

Choose wisely.

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