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It's About Time

Two weeks into my social experiment of a Facebook free year, the only time I think about it is when I realize I haven’t been thinking about it at all- a fact that makes me calm and happy. Why did leaving Facebook seem like such a big deal? I’m not sure, but it sounded so… drastic. I suppose I thought I’d feel cut off from the world.

Though it’s only been two weeks, the experience has been just the opposite. I feel so much more a part of the actual world around me. During a FaceTime call with a friend this weekend, she told me about a picture she posted on facebook. “I hate facebook! I got so many likes for that post, why don’t things I actually care about get 250 likes?!” she said, as confused and exasperated as I was with the oh-so-familiar scenario. I told her that I noticed most of my likes and comments came from things I didn’t necessarily hold dear, and we discussed how strange it is that the likes and comments of others can increase or decrease the value we attribute to events we share on social media. I’m admittedly guilty of thinking, for the few seconds before I catch myself, “I thought that post would get more likes, I guess its not that interesting”. The question I’m interested in now is, who cares?

The same friend told me about a commercial that calculated the time 6 pairs of individuals statistically have together, and the site allows visitors to calculate their own hours with a chosen loved one.

I calculated the days I have left with one of my best friends:

This may seem like a lot of time, but the website puts this in perspective:

According to statistics, over the next 40 years, we will spend:
520 days watching TV series,
six years watching television,
eight years on the internet,
10 years staring at screens.
How much time will you spend with the people who matter to you?"

While discussing the commercial, I thought “Wow, the profundity of the…. wait.. is ‘profundity’ a word?”. In wrestling with my temporary brainfart, I later took to Google to ask my information machine (yes, its a word). After doing so, I noticed I was being beckoned with more very insightful information. “30 Cats Who Are Killing It”, a BuzzFeed article, popped up. I stared at it. While I’m sure the article was a breathtaking account of unparalleled insight into the life of the feline, I couldn’t help but get taken back to the days of the dictionary (they used to make giant paper books with words in them). My parents, always to my dismay, would respond “look it up” whenever I asked a question (about anything). But seeing the activity through my 36 year-old eyes, I remembered the draw. I would begrudgingly go over to the dictionary and look up a word, but then there were all these other words I didn’t know. Some I had heard of but didn’t understand, some I couldn’t even pronounce. I had the opportunity to get lost in pages and come out the other side with new ways to express myself and describe things with words I didn’t know 30 minutes earlier. That’s growth, and it doesn’t come from BuzzFeed articles or political facebook rants.

When I look at my life as a healthy 36 year-old, with (hopefully) another 50 years of life left, it sounds like a long time. It’s easy to lay back and look at all that’s ahead of me. What puts things into perspective is the comparison between useless, wasteful activities and time we spend with our favorite people. I love a good cult classic movie, but I would choose a few hours with a friend like Shannon over Dumb and Dumber any day. We laugh, we talk, we have random adventures. At the end of my TV time or movies, I’m likely neutral or sleepy and ready for bed. After scrolling through social media, I feel frazzled, mentally unorganized, and unfulfilled. So, why continue?

Life is about time. To my knowledge no one has ever discussed how annoyingly long life is, or that they would choose to live a shorter life. How we spend our time defines us. How we spend our time shows others what we care about and what we want to make of the time we have. We can say we care about helping others, growing as individuals, traveling, etc, but none of that is actually true unless we give up the time we spend on useless activities to allow time for things that actually shape us into the person we say we aspire to be.

I learned a story about a woman’s husband last week. She estimated she and her husband spent 3-4 hours every few months of their several years together discussing things they could do to grow as individuals and as a couple. After several conversations over a year or so, the woman successfully got her husband to agree to trying meditation for 10 minutes twice per week, totaling 20 minutes per week. The next morning the couple sat in silence for 4 minutes, as a general start. The woman’s husband then went to watch football at a bar, leaving at 10am and returning 6 hours later, intoxicated. He passed out on the couch after accidentally leaving the stove on (ah the perils of drunk cooking) for 2 1/2 hours until, thankfully, she caught it. The woman was part sad and part bewildered as she shared her story with me, possibly for the first time truly realizing how important it was to understand how each person in the relationship wanted to spend their time. As we talked, she shared that she eventually realized it wasn’t that her husband wanted to spend his days re-living Animal House, he just didn’t believe in himself enough to choose a better life. “He says, ‘That’s just not me.’ whenever I broach the topics of eating better, meditating, lessening the bar nights out, those things” she said. “After awhile, we both realized he didn’t think he deserved that kind of life, so he told himself it wasn’t his style. He felt like an imposter, a fake, when it was simply the act of choosing to be better and to grow”.

I reflected on her story and the idea of telling ourselves “That’s just not me” or “I can’t”. I thought about all the things I’m most proud of in my life- getting a good eduction, traveling the world, buying a house on my own, getting married to a wonderful man, and moving to California. What if, instead of believing I could, I told myself I couldn’t? What if I acted based on fear and, afraid to take risks and try things that scared me, I told myself “that’s just not me”? This stayed with me for hours as I imagined a completely different life. The things I would have missed out on… well, that’s a whole other post. But the lesson was, when you tell yourself “that’s just not me”, it never will be.

My father was recently diagnosed with dementia and now lives in a personal care home. At some point I realized we would never again be sitting in his home together, talking fluidly for hours over great Italian wine. While he is still adept at talking on the phone with me, our quality of discussion is diminished. When we speak, I am face-to-face with the aging process and I suddenly grow fiercely protective over my time and how (or if) it fulfills me. It’s not a happy process, but its a very real and necessary exercise in taking a perspective beyond our own perceived immortality and ignorance. With this experience and the aid of Deep Work by Georgetown professor Cal Newport, a book on high-value work that requires long periods of focus, I’ve been markedly more purposeful and intentional with my time. I bought a Passion Planner, started scheduling 4-5 hours of uninterrupted work in my day, quit Facebook (partially inspired by the topic of the book), signed up for my alumni book club and began scheduling time to eat, shower, read, run, write and meditate. I set aside two full weekend days per month to talk with my girlfriends or see them in person to truly connect.

It sounds confining. It’s not. I’m finding myself more refreshed than ever because I don’t have to think about what I’m going to focus on from moment to moment, and my time is my own. I have ownership over how I spend my limited days. I simply follow a plan that makes sense for the life I want to lead. The process allows me to unapologetically do what fulfills me, what makes me happy, and what helps me “live my best life” as the kids say. And although I’ve done this is some fashion for the last decade or so, I realized I never did anything really “drastic” to make bigger, more committed changes. I found it silly that I would talk about savoring my time but then so easily choose to waste it:) So, here I am, making “drastic” changes.

It’s about time.