I have a friend who thinks time is running out for her. I’m sure she’s not alone, a lot of people share that feeling; I definitely was one of those people who constantly worried that life isn’t moving ahead at a pace that I’d be proud of. Everyday before sleeping, I’d look back and wonder: ‘Gosh! Did I just create a presentation today? How would it help my career?‘. Then I’d have nagging thoughts such as these: ‘Oh god, I’m 25 and I haven’t experienced Sky Diving yet and I haven’t even learnt how to play a guitar.‘ Then when I read about revolutionaries, artists, writers, philosophers and scientists, I couldn’t help but think if I’m wasting my youth chasing money and creating software while I could be a guerrilla artist instead.
The what-I-could-be-doing-instead syndrome
Having a list of interests, goals and wishes is by no means bad. In fact, I have a list of things I’d want to do by the time I turn 30. However, such list merely serves as a gentle reminder of what I like to do rather than what I should be doing. If the only role your goals (or such lists) perform is to constantly make you feel worthless or unaccomplished, what’s the point of having such a list?
Why passage of time makes one worried?
On this fine Saturday late morning, for the past one hour, I have been sitting idle while drinking a cup of milk and listening to some dubstep and classic rock mix. Yes, I know, instead of this I could be making plans, pitching to a new customer, watching guitar lessons on Youtube, refining my book’s manuscript or doing a number of other activities to make “progress” in life. But here look at me, all I am doing is listening to some pretty good music, scribbling a few random thoughts and in general feeling immense joy. Should I feel guilty of not doing something worthwhile? Am I really “wasting” my time or is this life in its core essence?
Eons ago I thought that one should feel guilty of not solving world’s greatest problems (Having re-read my post, I think I was — and, to a large extent, still am — inclined towards solving great problems because of the challenge and fun, but not because of any inherent value contained in solving such problems). Now I have come to believe that the passage of time makes one worried when an individual expects to do something great in her life but by sheer odds finds herself to be leading a pretty ordinary life. In fact, since the definition of great is always changing as one keeps achieving greatness, no matter what one does, there’s always something more to be done in life. So what if one is an accountant engaged in a standard 9-5 job? Isn’t it personal greatness as compared to millions who have to struggle daily to put food on their tables, let alone affording the luxury of going to school and graduating as an accountant?
Should I be mistaken, let me clarify my position. I’m all enthusiastic for great goals such as “one day I will travel the world or write a book or do my own startup or will take my startup to an IPO”. But if you feel worthless right now for not having made sufficient progress, consider that even after achieving these goals, you will keep on feeling like shit because by then your goals would have changed to something even greater. Once published, a mere book with your name as the author won’t satisfy. Now you would need to write a bestseller book! What if your book debuts as #2 on New York Times list but you still feel it isn’t as great as it could have been? Only if you had put in some more effort, it could have been #1. Or if your startup does IPO eventually, there’s always a company in the competition that is doing better than you! Isn’t it true?
You have to choose to be happy in spite of non-achievement (or achievement) of goals.
And since no matter what you do, there’s will always be something else you could be doing, key is to relax, go easy on yourself and just enjoy the phenomenon called life. (But don’t let this pressure to be happy actually make you unhappy! It’s OK if you are not happy today, there’s always a tomorrow.)
Why we actually have an infinite amount of time in life
Like myself, if you subscribe to the philosophy of Nihilism and consider that life is inherently meaningless, you should find this worry about time passing away dissolve pretty easily. Consider this truism that you didn’t exist before you were born and you will of course not exist after you die. You don’t observe time when you are non-existant. So, essentially, for you, whatever time you spend living is all the time available in the universe. To clarify, for example, if were unable to complete your assignment today and (god forbid), you die tomorrow, you won’t be there to notice the tomorrow and then of course the non-completion of your assignment wouldn’t bother you. Similar is the case with all of the life’s great goals. It’s nice if you achieve them but it’s totally fine if you were unable to do so as it really doesn’t matter after you die. Regrets people have on their death beds don’t matter to them once they die! They (and everyone else) should go easy with their lives because: a) they never really had much freedom to influence their lives; b) as long as they are happy now, the past doesn’t really matter and future won’t matter after their death.
Clocks and anxiety
In spite of all such rationalization, looking at a clock does make one anxious. At least for me, clocks generate anxiety to act. When I look at a clock and see that the time is 3 am, I immediately ask myself if I should be sleeping? Or, if it’s 9pm on a Saturday, shouldn’t I be out partying? Why am I wasting my life doing things? What else could I be doing right now that is best optimized for the current hour and day?
It used to be like this until one fine day I decided to remove clocks from my home and disabled time on my MacBook Pro. If only my iPhone would let me disable showing time on homescreen, god knows I would do that in a jiffy. Instead of push-based time where photons reflecting from the clock constantly reminding me of passage of time, what I want time to be is pull-based. For example, if I’m bored, I type ‘time‘ into Google and know what time and day it is. I realize that running a software business with such idiosyncrasies doesn’t take one far but I rely on reminders to tell me if I have a meeting or a commitment rather than regularly looking at time and then wondering if I have a meeting. Pull-based methods let one be in control of time rather than time controlling one’s life and activities.
Conclusion: it all boils down to happiness (as always!)
I believe that the only thing a person can reasonably aim for is to be happy. If you buy that theory, it makes absolutely no difference to what you are doing as long as it makes you happy (ideally, while staying within the bounds of morality and not impinging on others). So the feeling of time running out is nonsense because it relies on an assumption that future will be happier than the present, but ironically the only people who worry about time running out are the well-to-do ones (have you ever stumbled across a poor chap who’s worried about this?) and for them happiness does always remain in future! (Side note: I really like a phrase and it goes something like this: “Future is the source of all worries!”)
Don’t complain, relax, listen to some french jazz and maybe sip a glass of wine too. Trust me, there’s nothing better you could be doing right now!