Time fascinates me. It is controlling and uncontrollable. It is a philosophy, a challenge, a measurement.
Consider time in its most basic aspect. It tells us where we are in the course of a day. We wear time on our wrist, carry it in our pocket, hang it on our walls. We can tick our way into leisure or panic, a waking up or a winding down.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are you punctual or do you procrastinate? Is it too late for a waffle, too early for a drink?
Meet that deadline. Beat that record. Get to that appointment. Arrive one hour before your departure. No, two. Three, if you’re in Chicago.
Your test starts now. The call is scheduled for an hour. The bank is closed.
We sling-shot out of bed, facing a day of commitments. Every moment seems scheduled. There is never enough time for all the things we need to do, for getting to all the places we have to be.
Or maybe there is.
Laura Vanderkam recently wrote an article for The New York Times that burst the bubble of busy-ness. She logged her activities in 30-minute increments, on a daily basis, for a full year. It was a study in time management that ended up teaching her that life is not as hectic as she thought.
That’s a double-edged epiphany. The quality and quantity of time in our daily lives can become part of our identity. There is a certain heroism afforded those who maintain a breakneck pace. Freneticism proves the absence of laziness. Occupation indicates demand, which implies value. If I’m always busy, it’s because I’m always needed. So I must be important. Having time on your hands is a symbol of luxury, temporary or permanent, earned or stolen.
Who do I want to be in the time that I’ve got? How do I manage that time to match that goal? I’ve read lists, blog posts, columns, and books about time management and the people who are successful at it. You have, too. We have spent time reading up on time.
My second-grader plans her bedtime routine around how much reading and coloring she wants to do before she falls asleep. I track my daily to-do list by scheduling tasks into my Outlook calendar. My 102-year-old aunt likes visits to be done in time for the evening social hour.
Time is the beast we live our lives trying to tame.
That beast takes different shapes for different ages. There is a great Jerry Seinfeld bit where he compares the urgency of childhood to the plodding of adulthood. “Hurry up,” children yell. “Slow down,” parents beg. There is nothing my children want more than to be older. When do we stop feeling impatient for a birthday?
I was recently in Los Angeles for meetings. I went to Beverly Hills for the first time, and had lunch at a fabulous spot across the street from an even more fabulous spot. I was the only woman within view whose face was not tucked, tightened or teased. I looked haggard next to women twice my age. Time might march on, but it wasn’t marching across the faces surrounding me.
Age is not the only way time connects us. Time can be an emotional point of connection, too. We can commiserate over how much of an evening was spent on a T-ball field. We can worry about why it has taken him so long to call back. We can share tips on how to maximize efficiency, find more time, appreciate the time we’ve got.
And that, of course, is the real question. Of life, and of time. A waste of time is said to be a waste of life.
We are allotted this one time. It is finite, but we don’t know to what degree. Are we supposed to live like there is no tomorrow? What does it mean to take it one day at a time? How do we use our time to create the life we’re worth living?
Do we wait for time to tell, or do we learn how to tell time?