We are all going to die.
Really, that is a fact. It is not a new fact. It is not a surprising one, though we would like to pretend it is, so when it is stated so plainly and in-your-face, you get to be taken aback by its fearsome truth.
We have a finite time on this planet and that entails that we make wise use of what time we have. There a few challenges to that “make wise use” part:
- We don’t know how much time we have
- We don’t know what is wise use
- We cannot go back in time because there are no do-overs
Therefore, to turn our time into “good time” (an unfortunately apt reference to the pathologies of prison sentences), is quite literally the challenge of a lifetime. It is a wicked problem and there are no guaranteed solutions. What are some approaches we try?
This one is a favorite and I see it quite often. It tends to coagulate, like sticky, low-volume blood, in urban centers amongst the young and ambitious. They like to be productive. They stay busy. Their days start early, they are networking, drinking at happy hours, volunteering, building companies, Soulcycling and getting their yoga in — the checking off of the list of things on their to-do list continues as does the adding of things to that to-do list.
The problem of hyper-productivity is that a) it never stops, and b) it’s a form of trying to fill your days so you can point to something and say “I did this!” but the real question is, did it matter? Harder to answer than you would think. Let’s move on.
Pleasure is as pleasure does
Ah, there is nothing like the search for pleasure. The best clubs, the best parties, the best drugs, the best vacations… Also found often in urban centers, but even outside of major cities, you find this particular type that is fond of following the band and just having a good time. If it feels good, then it must be good. Just keep chasing the high, chasing that dragon, and just let it all be.
The problem of the pleasure principle is that a) it never stops, and b) it’s a form of trying to fill your days so you don’t have to face yourself in the mirror and ask, does any of it matter? Harder to answer than you would think. Shall we keep moving?
If you seek… and seek… and seek…
Oh, have you never encountered the constant searcher? They have more degrees than you would imagine, have tried more things than you thought possible, and can probably discuss a breathtaking breadth of topics (sometimes with depth, sometimes with irony), but they don’t quite seem to know where they are going or what they are doing. In their search that seems never-ending, it is hard to figure out what place, eventually, they intend to get to. But better to not choose than to choose the “wrong” thing, right?
The problem of the search and never find approach is that a) it never stops, and b) it’s a form of trying to fill your head with all the options so that you don’t have to face the fact that by never closing any the doors you have ensured that nothing can matter. Brutal, isn’t it?
Some combination of all of the above
We all have done some form, in some measure, of each of those things. I know that I have tended towards the never-ending search inside, while I externally project productivity, and I have some envy towards those who embrace the pleasure principle. They are always having so much fun!
There are no easy answers. There only remains the knowledge of the constant ticking of that clock. We can only embrace the idea that there is a finite time we have and we even need to accept how wholly unfair it is. Why? We have all the imagination that allows us to see far beyond the limits of 70 or 80 years and it comes with a desire to experience everything that we know and that we know is coming! That is unfair, and yet, by acceptance we gain boundaries which help is figure out questions we ought ask ourselves.
1. Do we like our work 3 out of 5 days a week?
2. Are the things we dislike about our work specific to the job, specific to the people we work with, specific to the field we work in, or specific to how you work that doesn’t gel?
3. If all of your basic needs (food, security, housing) were taken care of, would you still want to do this 3 out of 5 days a week?
1. Do you like yourself?
2. Do you like yourself when around your friends?
3. Do you like your friends?
4. If you don’t like your friends, but you do like yourself when you’re around your friends, you should really ask yourself #1 again and work on that discrepancy, maybe?
5. Desert island: pick 5 people. How much time do you spend with those people in your regular day-to-day life?
1. Do you have hobbies?
2. Do you have hobbies that you do or are they hobbies that you would like to do if you had the time?
3. Why don’t you have the time to do those hobbies?
4. Death-bed confession: hobbies versus work. What percentage of each would you have preferred and what stops you from making that percentage true now?
Why does this matter?
We could do this for any number of topics: travel, food, volunteering, exploration, etc. There are always 24 hours in a day; there are always 365-366 days a year; the average of your good years of health are up to around the early 70s before it all quickly goes downhill. Those things are finite.
What is not set in stone is what you do with those hours. Again, it is terribly unfair, I know, but we cannot wish for the stars to stop burning no more than we can wish away the shape of our noses, the extra weight we carry on our hips, or the unfortunate way we have of drooling in our sleep. There are some things that are just there: only expensive cosmetic surgery and an overwhelming amount of self-loathing to spend money on that surgery will cure it and what is that worth?
Therefore, to combat the tyranny of time itself, we should ask ourselves questions like the above and use the answers to help us navigate the uncertain waters of the future. The hypothetical desert islands and death-bed confessionals are good places to start; another would be to place yourself in the shoes of your future self and ask: what mattered?
Or you can read a lot, that is one I like, and see what other people, fictional or non, did. That is a great way to live a number of lives not your own and learn from them.
We are all going to die. It is the final insult. But between then and now we have this incredible opportunity to live well. Take the time to weigh your time for its value is to you.
How will you do it? How will you live? How will you face this final tyrant?