Businessman and author Harvey Mackay gives us the following riddle: “What is free, but also priceless? You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back. What is it?” The answer, of course, is time. It has often been said that time is humanity’s most valuable commodity. While we all may agree with this sentiment, we collectively do a poor job of putting it into practice.
Time is short. Time flies. Make the most of your youth. Y.O.L.O. It’s been said many different ways. We all know that we have a limited amount of years, weeks, days on earth. We all want to spend them well. So why does it seem like we so often get stuck in a rut of spending our time in ways we regret? I am not sure of a definitive answer to that question, but there are a couple things I do know about time.
Time is a gift.
When you suddenly have unexpected free time, you are thankful. You may not even have specific plans to spend your time, but just knowing that your schedule has been freed up is so gratifying. Part of the reason for this feeling of relief is that as human beings we are not meant to be continuously doing things (after all, we are not called human doings). It can be so freeing to be able to just be.
Whatever you choose to do with your newfound free time is your choice. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? You can get that last chore done if it’s been bothering you. You can finish the book that been queued in your Kindle app for weeks. You can sit down to a meal with the ones you love. You can relax or take a nap. You get to be you.
Since we have all experienced this gift of time and know the great pleasure it gives us, I encourage you as much as possible to also give the gift of time to others. Make dinner, take out the trash, mow the lawn, cancel the assignment, extend the deadline. It can be such a small sacrifice by you that makes a big difference for someone else.
Time is a choice.
Everyone has the same amount of time in a day. Everyone decides how they spend that time. No one can say, “I don’t have time for that.” It’s simply not a true statement. The truth is that you do have time. We all do. We just choose how we spend our time. The better, more honest statement would be, “I am choosing to do something else with my time.”
I realize that we will not likely go around telling people what we are choosing to do instead of acquiescing to their requests. But at the very least, we should acknowledge to ourselves that our time is spent how we choose to spend it. We don’t need to feel guilty. Sometimes the things we choose to do instead are good, valuable, and honest ways for us to spend our time. To choose to spend time with a sick loved one instead of finishing that project for work is probably a good choice. The need to get rest and take a mental health break may have been more important than completing that homework assignment. In these situations, we still cannot honestly say, “I didn’t have time.” We do have time. We just choose how to spend it.
Sometimes we choose well. Other times, we are forced into very difficult situations about how to spend this precious commodity. Sometimes the privilege we naturally experience creates easier decisions of how we spend our time. In other cases, the disadvantages society places on us force us into very difficult choices. And every now and then we make poor decisions about how to spend our time. In any case, we choose. The more we realize that how we spend our time is a choice, the more likely we will be to choose well.