Taking Advantage of the Time You Have
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
The other night, I had a dream that there was a demon living in my basement. I don't even have a basement, but in my dream, it was large and dark; black and murky. The demon had the face of an old man, without skin or teeth. In my dream, there was a toddler living in my home, and it innocently wandered into the cold, dark, demon basement, unaware that it was entering some sort of hell. I stood on a wooden staircase as the toddler, draped in a long, white shirt, was swallowed up by the demon. I couldn't move, my legs cemented to the stairs. Dreams are like that sometimes-infuriating and bleak; terrorizing and hollow. I woke up in a cold sweat, feeling as if I had no control over anything, and like I might be gone at any minute.
Death might have been the theme of my dream, but it's also, sort of, the theme of life. Nothing new can regenerate without death, and as obvious as that is, we don't like to think about it.
The immediacy of life struck me especially hard because I've begun to notice how time seems to come and go almost imperceptibly. When I was young, I would count down the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas, carefully marking off each day on my calendar. The excitement of the holiday was thrilling, my days were relatively dull, and I let my small self get caught up in the splendor of bright lights and cheerful music; snowy days and hushed, quiet nights.
I used to sit in the hard plastic desks of my high school and wish away time, watching the clocks gradually inch toward 3 p.m. I would doodle in the pages of my planner while my teachers droned on about calculus or geometry or World War II. Later, I would read my textbooks by myself, shoving everything I needed to know into a half an hour of studying and memorizing facts just to forget them after a quiz or test.
In college, I longed for winter break, or for the cross country season to start, or to be done with school entirely and *finally* feel like an adult. My semesters were neatly organized for me, my classes by syllabus, my seasons by race schedules. I knew what to expect and when to expect it. Life was relatively predictable and I had relatively little to do with any of it. All I needed to think about was running fast and studying hard. Time dripped slowly from fall to winter to spring. Come summer, I worked and slept and ran, drinking cold lemonade on the roof of my boyfriend's house or slinking around a mostly-empty campus. I read a lot of books, drank a lot of smoothies, and generally settled into a lower decibel of life. Summer was for music festivals and farmers markets; road trips and Coors Light. Life was segmented, and for some reason, time felt dangerously slow. I felt as if I'd never reach the cusp of adulthood until suddenly, I did.
It was not a glamorous transition, from college athlete to full-time employee. I was disillusioned with work, bored by the 9-5 structure of it, confused by the incompetency of those in charge of me, and generally left to wonder, "Is this it? Is this what I pulled all-nighters for? Is this why I studied so hard?" I had more time than I'd ever had before, my weekends suddenly free, my evenings devoid of structure. I discovered that most people are drawn to easy things: going out to drink, sleeping in on weekend mornings, staring blankly at television screens, sitting sanguinely in rush-hour traffic. Was this it?
A few years ago, I moved into a large, 1,000 square foot apartment and I bought things to fill up the space. More furniture, more wall décor, more kitchen appliances. When I moved into my current, 250 square foot unit, I discovered how much stuff I had that I didn't need. Just as we fill the space we have, we fill the time we have, until we're overwhelmed with things we "need to do." We throw up our hands, "I'm just so busy!" we say. "I don't have enough time." There is never enough time and yet, time is all we really have. Adulthood has opened doors and condensed time. It is enough the same that I barely notice it passing. My days slip into the past like water, dissolving like steam.
Now, I parcel time by planning ahead and creating things to look forward to: trips to races, trips home to see my family, vacations, exploration. My days tick by in the dull monotony of meetings, the subtle stress of taking care of everything work and life related, the exhausting magnitude of everything I want to do, set against the bleak backdrop of what I have time for.
I used to make time for anything that seemed mildly intriguing. "Yes," I'd say, to a night out. "Yes," I'd say to anyone who wanted to interview me for a podcast no one has ever heard of. "Yes," I'd say to anyone who wanted feedback on a resume or for me to edit their work. I said "yes" to anyone who asked me on a date, "yes" to anyone who invited me on a road trip. I was exploring time, filling it, seeing what felt good to say "yes" to. Now, I say "yes" only when it makes sense to say yes, only when it is worth taking time from something or someone I love.
I discovered how easy it would be to fill time mindlessly, year after year, until I die. It was much more difficult and far more important to decide where and when and why to focus my time. I don't spend time with anyone who does not make me feel happy or good, and I don't spend time working on anything that won't help me stair-step my way toward my goals. If time is money, wasted time is poverty. None of us are getting out of this alive, so we may as well take advantage of whatever amount of time we get to be here.
Wayne Dyer said, "Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed."