“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world – to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.” Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
When I was an undergraduate at UW-Madison, one of the most interesting and challenging classes I took was a metaphysics course for my philosophy major. A large portion of the class was devoted to studying time – including the theories of Four Dimensionalism, Growing Block Theory, Presentism, and Eternalism, among others. Of all the articles we read, the one I remember most vividly is John McTaggart’s The Unreality of Time. So many philosophers have put so much thought, effort, and time into studying the nature of time – in some cases, for the sole purpose of arguing against its very existence. While I wasn’t aware of it then, I have since come to realize just how valuable time is.
Time is a fascinating concept. We’re constantly moving through time, yet it often seems to pass by unnoticed. Sometimes time seems to move impossibly fast – before we can grasp it, it’s already gone. Other times it seems to pass by agonizingly slowly, as if it cannot move quickly enough. Perhaps the best moments of all are those when we become so engrossed in something that we seem to lose all sense of time – as if time itself has stopped and nothing could possibly matter more than what we’re experiencing here, now, and in this moment. It’s those extraordinary experiences that make us realize how wonderful life can and ought to be. When I experience moments of such a nature, memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I can’t help but wonder why I would ever waste time doing things that I’m not passionate about or with people I don’t particularly value. Those instances of pure exaltation signify the moments when we’re genuinely lost in thought or consumed by purposeful action – when we’re embracing life, having a sublime experience, and feeling utterly alive, in the fullest possible sense of the word. Those are the moments we ought to strive to create as often as possible. From my experience, they are typically the result of one of two things: (1) engaging in activities that I’m passionate about and from which I derive meaning and fulfillment, or (2) spending time with those rare individuals who I’m fortunate enough to feel a genuine, irreplaceable connection with – those who challenge me to become the best possible self that I can be.
Unfortunately, it seems that we too often lose sight of just how invaluable time is. By losing focus on our goals and absentmindedly settling into mediocrity, it’s easy to fall into a life of monotony – of wasted time, mindless activities, shelved projects, and dulled emotional experiences. Eventually, though, if we’re fortunate enough, something will happen to wake us up. Whether by witnessing a heroic achievement, having an unexpected moment of passion, meeting someone we feel an unparalleled connection with, or the death of a loved one, the value of time and the alarmingly short length of the human life will be at the forefront of our minds once again. The key is to never forget this, and to remember from then on that we must invest our time wisely or risk regrets later, when it’s too late.
To prevent future regrets, ask yourself now how you really want to spend your time. Do you want to spend it ruminating about past mistakes or upcoming events? Do you want to waste it doing things you don’t enjoy, or with people who provide no value in your life? Or do you want to spend it in such a way that you are able to look back upon your life later with pride, knowing that you spent every waking moment doing something worthwhile – pouring your soul into creating a life of purpose, challenging your abilities, expanding your knowledge, and deepening your bonds with kindred spirits?
It’s not merely our intentions, but our choices and actions that define us. Do you want your choices and actions to reflect a person who waits passively as life moves by? Or do you want your choices and actions to reveal an individual who lives with conviction and curiosity – someone who creates his own purpose and challenges himself to realize his potential? The person who wants to take the easy way out will be content with mediocrity, settling for a safe, monotonous life. The person who is committed to a meaningful existence will not accept the ‘good enough,’ but will lead a life of conviction and resolve, acknowledging the fact that this will inevitably involve failures along the way. The second involves a life of risk, no doubt, but would you rather live a life marked by safety and mediocrity, or one brimming with purpose, passion, and fulfillment? The choice is yours, and it’s perhaps the most important decision one must make in life.
In the end, time is perhaps the most important thing that we have a limited amount of and that we can’t control. While we can’t control time itself, however, we can control how we choose to spend our time. It’s not easy to live consciously – cognizant of the full meaning of each moment and accepting the personal responsibility that this perspective entails. But an easy life leads neither to the attainment of genuine happiness nor to the realization of one’s potential.
Given that our time is finite and ever-dwindling, why waste a second doing something that we’re not passionate about, or with people we don’t value, when we could instead be investing our time creating experiences that will help us produce the best, most fulfilling life possible? For, as Mr. Darcy would put it, time once lost is lost forever.
One of my favorite movies, About Time, sums up this sentiment perfectly:
“We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”