Well, It's About Time!

published on 2015-11-16

What to do, what to do? That’s always the question, isn’t it?

Let me first qualify: I recognize that I’m lucky that I have the luxury of enough time that I have to deliberate on how to spend it. But this just means that I have the luxury of choosing from many things I actually could do; I just don’t have enough time to do them. Of course, this really is just me realizing some of the angst People Of A Certain Age start to feel: What do I want to have done? How would I like to have spent my time?

“Spend time”. It’s curious how the idea of time as a currency is built right into our language, but it takes quite a lot of life experience to really grok the similarities. They are both resources which must be budgeted. If you trade one of them, you can get other things in return. In fact, you can actually exchange one for the other: you can pay someone money to mow the lawn, and that will “give” you an hour; that hour you can then trade to your employer for some more money (hopefully, the amount you get from your employer is more than what you paid to get your lawn mown!).

The biggest difference between time and money is that you can’t go into debt with time. Theology aside, once you’ve spent all your time, you don’t get more; that’s it. There is no welfare, no bankruptcy court, nothing. Further, you never REALLY know when your remaining balance is going to be spent or stolen. If someone were to steal every cent and every material possession you owned and left you naked on some corner somewhere, you have a pretty good chance of gaining more money, more material possessions, more stuff before you die. However, if someone takes the remainder of your time, that’s it; game over.

This, of course, is unsettling for anyone. Once you start getting older, you start internalizing the reality and permanence of going time-broke and really start wondering how you want to spend the remainder of your balance. You don’t want to feel as if you’ve just squandered hours, days, weeks, months, years on the time-equivalent of infomercials.

Note to self: I wonder if vampires could be considered to be part of a time/life pyramid scheme…

Of course, with this comes the realization that you don’t have the budget to do all the things that you want; they simply cost too much. But here’s the thing: we Americans are typically psychotically optimistic. We buy lottery tickets with the hopes that we’ll hit it rich, even though if we purchase 50 lotto tickets per week, we’ll win once every… oh, 5000 years, on average. We go to casinos even though we KNOW that the house wins, period. And this thinking tricks us into the ever-slippery “I probably won’t do/become/visit (insert thing here)”. For example, I probably will never practice enough piano to play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. But, probably will never doesn’t mean I can’t which, by extension, means that I could. I know how I could attack this problem. All it would take is time.

This elusive probably is what causes us pain. If someone, perhaps our own selves, would just tell us “no, you cannot do that; there simply is not enough time”, we could decide to not pursue that endeavor. However, we don’t know how much time we have. Perhaps we do have enough time. I mean, my company could IPO or get bought and my decent share in the company could end up situating me for life and I could comfortably spend an hour or two a day every day practicing, and then I could either find a symphony which is practicing to play the Rach 3 and I could pay for one session to play with them, or I could hire the symphony (hey, the IPO could go ridiculously well), so I shouldn’t just put that out of my mind, and I’d better start now because this could happen.

But it won’t. At least, it’s not likely to happen. And so I need to budget my time accounting for the almost undeniable fact that I’ll be working the rest of my life. Which wouldn’t be that bad if the only thing I had to budget for was the Rach 3. However, the reality is that I’ve budgeted my piano time (i.e. time after work and before Cora goes to bed) to hanging out with Cora, doing the whole bedtime preparation, chores, etc. I don’t have the “disposable” time to spend on piano. Not only that, but piano is not the only thing I want to do. I want to do woodworking, and there are limits on the time I can spend on that due to the noise of the tools. I have a couple software projects I’d like to do. I have video games I’d like to play, LEGO I’d like to build, movies I’d like to watch, books I’d like to read, hats and scarves I’d like to knit, etc.

Luckily, each of these things has a value property to it, an ROI. One can, in theory, take a look at each of these things and say “playing piano for an hour is more valuable to me than playing an hour of video games”. The issue here is that I have to make guesses as to how I will feel about these choices in the future. For example: how would I like to spend the time which I can’t spend on getting better at playing the piano? Would I feel better if I purchased an hour of video game playing or an hour of development time on a software project? It’s easy for me to envision a future in which I am better off for having spent the time on development, but it’s also easy for me to envision a future in which it makes no difference. In the case of the latter, then it doesn’t matter if I spent the time on video games or on software, so why not make myself now happy and do the video games?

Of course, I realize this is just part of life; we have to decide how to spend our resources. I guess I’m just feeling it more than usual because I have recently found myself having more unbudgeted time and I have to actually think about how I’d like to spend that time, and I’m stalled because of the growing realization that every additional hour I spend is a growing proportion of my remaining time budget. And that kinda terrifies me.