Why time is not running out


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.

Is the clock ticking?

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?

Expensive watch, but still worried!

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.)

Life is awesome!

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?

Run, clock, run!

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!”)

LOL :)

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!

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30 Responses to “Why time is not running out”

  1. Abhishek Mathur
    26. November 2012 at 10:18

    Reminds me of this…
    http://www.pointlesseverything.com/main/

    Just realised looks like a spam comment, but is infact not.

  2. Nihr Sawant
    26. November 2012 at 11:00

    “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” How would you fit Steve Job’s quote in this philosophy? (If you agree with it)

  3. Paras Chopra
    26. November 2012 at 12:54

    @Nihir: yes, of course, I agree with the quote. Why would you keep on doing something that doesn’t make you happy. At that point of time you have two choices: either change what you are doing or just accept what you are doing and be happy. Some people (like Steve) may find their happiness to be solely linked by what they are doing and hence the only option for them is to change what they are doing. But there are many, many people who are able to derive happiness from different aspects in life: hobbies, families, friends, etc. However, if you interpret Steve’s quote to find some sort of moral superiority of work over other forms of happiness, I’d disagree. (That is, if you think doing great work is a moral obligation and you should not be happy otherwise, it’s a wrong interpretation in my opinion).

  4. J G
    26. November 2012 at 13:43

    FYI, it really is worth the time to make a little room in your life to go skydiving. It’s an amazing rush and a lot of fun. Obviously don’t give up your life goals or anything, but it’s worth burning a Saturday sometime to go fly the emperor’s new airline.

  5. Paras Chopra
    26. November 2012 at 13:59

    J G: yes, yes, yes, yes! Skydiving is definitely something I’d do one day. Trouble is that in India it’s not as easy to find. I think I will do when I am traveling abroad.

  6. Noel M
    26. November 2012 at 14:54

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I was literally just lying in bed thinking about how I have so many things to do and didn’t spend any time on those things over the weekend… how I had “wasted” the weekend. Thanks for reminding me that it wasn’t a complete waste.

    Also fyi, I usually don’t comment on blogs but this really hit home with me. Thanks!

  7. Björn
    26. November 2012 at 15:04

    I call it the “magnet tape theory of life” – the notion that you have to experience as much as possible because life is short. But for what? I imagine people thinking they’ll have a magnet type full of their experiences with them in their afterlife. But of course it is nonsense, there will be no afterlife, so maxing out your tape is not necessary.

    Since nobody knows what magnet tapes are anymore, I need a new name. Perhaps “flash card theory of life”? Or “USB drive theory of life”?

  8. Olivier P
    26. November 2012 at 15:12

    Great Post Paras !

    This reminds me of some Krishnamurti’s ideas:

    “Question: What is the difference between awareness and introspection? And who is aware in awareness?

    Krishnamurti: Let us first examine what we mean by introspection. We mean by introspection looking within oneself, examining oneself. Why does one examine oneself? In order to improve, in order to change, in order to modify. You introspect in order to become something, otherwise you would not indulge in introspection. You would not examine yourself if there were not the desire to modify, change, to become something other than what you are. That is the obvious reason for introspection. I am angry and I introspect, examine myself, in order to get rid of anger or to modify or change anger. Where there is introspection, which is the desire to modify or change the responses, the reactions of the self, there is always an end in view; when that end is not achieved, there is moodiness, depression.”

  9. Arnav Roy
    26. November 2012 at 15:18

    The paragraph about Nihilism was enlightening. Kudos!

  10. Umair
    26. November 2012 at 16:00

    You just printed my insights in few words. I am more on a way to what you’re right now but it’s just started. I’m hoping to completely get rid of this syndrome as soon as possible.

  11. John Doe
    26. November 2012 at 16:11

    That “french jazz” is actually classic bossa nova music, i.e. brazilian portuguese. :)

  12. Paras Chopra
    26. November 2012 at 16:26

    @John Doe: oops, thanks for correcting.

    @Arnav, Umair, Noel: thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you liked my post.

    @Olivier: thanks for providing Krishnamurti’s ideas. My dad is a big fan of Krishnamurti. I’m yet to read about his ideas but from what I have heard, he provides a lot of excellent insights into living.

    @Bjorn: The pressure to gain new experiences can become so overwhelming that you end up being unhappy. What’s the point of that? I think this again relates to the same point of regretting about now because you could be doing some new things instead. If this helps reorienting your life, such reflection is good but if this fretting, analysis and reanalysis becomes a habit, it just leaves one terribly unhappy and frustrated.

  13. henrique gomes
    26. November 2012 at 16:36

    Excellent post.

    I usually use two principles when reflecting about our utility to the world, and if we are doing something useful or not:

    a) Life is complex
    b) Things are relative, and we ALWAYS have a limited view of reality

    About doing something great to the world, my view is that digital startups are a bubble that will (and are) widening their goals beside attending class B and A markets, scaling and making an IPO.

    So making something great to the world, while still relative, will probably become “easier” or “more accesible” to more people as technology reaches developing countries… and business models that aim to solve “First World Problems” will just keep being more of the same old. If that fulfills who does them, good for them – but sad for the rest of the world !

    And that notion of having an infinite amount of time in life is really hard to deal with – I wouldn’t agree some years ago, but now I realize how deep and true it is. “Enjoy the journey” is really important, as most of our everyday lifes are a constant war of distractions, more information than we can process, alarms, so we end by liiving an endless process of expecting short term results..

    Balancing is everything, and everything is balance, i would say. Whether you want to be the next Circus de Soleil acrobat, or a Nobel prize winner, we must understand ourselves, our limitations, and be aware if we are learning something, evolving, and enjoying our lifes in the journey ;)

    THanks for the post!

    Henrique

  14. Paras Chopra
    26. November 2012 at 16:43

    @Henrique: Whoa! Excellent points. I think the gist of your comment is that it is incredibly hard to know the true value or impact of your actions. So burning yourself over not making enough of an impact (especially since impact is hard to decipher) is not a wise activity.

  15. Sreeraman M.G
    26. November 2012 at 16:59

    Great post, Paras :)

  16. Alex
    26. November 2012 at 17:01

    TL;DR

    The little baby is really cute! ^^

  17. test
    26. November 2012 at 17:44

    the journey is the reward.

  18. Buzaga
    26. November 2012 at 17:55

    @Nihir: do you think Steve Jobs was a happy person? I don’t think he was. Altho its said he was influenced by oriental philosophy, to me he seemed to be not that spirituous. I see him as an icon of 21th century capitalist occidental ideals, workaholic, overachiever, emotionally detached, somewhat bitter…

    After he died, I remember the media here in Brazil doing a “young anyones aspire to Jobs to reach money, success” type of news feature with young, ambitious fellas talking about how everything can wait until they’re successful, etc…

  19. Krish
    26. November 2012 at 19:56

    Paras, Excellent post and I agree with most of your points. To me, if we aren’t happy with what we are doing today, there is no point continuing to do it feeling miserable. At the same time that being “happy” doesn’t necessarily equate to being “satisfied”, as there is always room for improvement in terms of what amount of things we can do, quality of work etc.,

    I read a quote somewhere about money (I think in HN), which I agree with: money just amplifies who you really are; if you are a nice guy, you become nicer; if you are an asshole you are just a bigger asshole with more money. To draw a parallel here, if we aren’t happy today, we aren’t happy tomorrow as well as the goalposts keep shifting.

    Thanks for sharing.

  20. Vincent
    26. November 2012 at 20:38

    Hi Paras,

    Thanks for a great inspirational post and some great music links as well :)

    Cheers,

    Vincent

  21. CHET RODMAN
    26. November 2012 at 22:55

    Purpose has, and always will be something that we all struggle with. Luckily for most, it is never an issue as they don’t think about it and just focus on daily requirements and repeat those events until they die. I think the comments above pretty much are a summary of what and where the world is headed. Just do whatever makes you happy and f the rest. Live is and always will be a vicious cycle of dispair. But the truth is we all die and when that day comes the fun or misery is over.

  22. Nasir
    26. November 2012 at 23:26

    Nice post; I usually do not reply, but there are exceptions.
    In the time we spent…..one of the things I was taught over and over is….”passing on legacy”/”leaving legacy”…..which might be there even after we are ‘done’ with our journey.

    Again refreshing to see similar sentiments do exist……

  23. Wasting Time | Race to 1000
    27. November 2012 at 09:35

    [...] http://paraschopra.com/blog/personal/why-time-is-not-running-out.htm [...]

  24. Deborah
    28. November 2012 at 17:51

    Man, thank you for the text. This whole world keep on pushing us to always be looking foward, for our future, etc. This text made me feel good about myself :)

  25. Rajat
    28. November 2012 at 23:04

    Great suggestion on the French Jazz. Really diggin’ the sounds.

  26. Alex
    28. November 2012 at 23:20

    I really like your insights about choosing happiness despite other measures of success. It’s a very difficult thing to do, though. Very many people define their happiness by their professional success, so making decisions in favor of personal happiness that may be detrimental to professional success could seem very non-intuitive. At the same time, though, it’s important to realize that happier people tend to be more successful.

    I wrote a related article in which I describe how to align your professional goals with your personal sense of fulfillment. Check it out if you have a chance:
    http://www.leanmarketing.ca/the-dfi-formula/

    -Alex

  27. Paras Chopra
    28. November 2012 at 23:35

    Hey guys, thanks for appreciating the post! It is a wonderful surprise that my views resonated with so many others.

    @Alex, yes I do agree with your perspective. I had blogged about exactly the same issue here: http://paraschopra.com/blog/personal/professional-success-and-personal-success-two-independent-dimensions.htm

  28. sameer
    5. December 2012 at 11:13

    I completely agree on one point – ‘..only people who worry about time running out are the well-to-do ones.

    Bertrand Russell nailed most of the happiness issues half a century back in his ‘The conquest of happiness’.

  29. Sandip Gandhi
    28. December 2012 at 20:44

    Dear Paras,

    Excellent post. Half-way down the post, I really wondered whether you indeed are all of 25. Then I started thinking if it is so, you must be son of or in some way related to Deepak Chopra. Keep it up, man. I would look forward to follow the blog regularly. I am sure you would have come across Landmark Forum or would have yourself undergone it too. For those who found it difficult to swallow meaninglessness part of life, would do well to do the Landmark Forum and earn a mssive freedom and happiness for the rest of the life to come.

  30. Vikas Sharma
    10. May 2013 at 10:55

    I’m both,inspired and impressed..!!

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