Does this sound familiar at all? I have a couple hours to myself at home, with no plan and nothing in particular that I need to get done. The possibilities are endless. So endless, in fact, that I’m paralyzed by the options. What the hell should I do with this gift of unplanned time?
I’m not a person who is particularly good at relaxing. I am often seeking out relaxation, but rarely do I feel like I’ve attained that state. And I’m pretty sure this is in no way a dilemma that is unique to me. We have more options than ever before and we are forced to make countless choices throughout our day. (I thought about trying to add them up for a day, but I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about it!)
So there’s the problem of too many choices, which feels of particular concern in our day and age. I think underneath that though, there is a more fundamental issue at work. For me, I feel uneasy about not ‘doing’ something at any given moment. Time feels precious—certainly it did as I started the blog after my cancer diagnosis eight years ago, and it does again in a big way now that I have a child. Time is precious in that it feels as though it is passing much more quickly, as marked by my daughter’s speed-of-light development before my eyes. I savor every moment with her.
I also savor the time I get with my wife and by myself—when my daughter is napping or in that rare case as when I started writing this blog, she’s at daycare while my wife and I have a day off.
It is as I hold this tight grasp on time that my dilemma persists. How do we fill our time most meaningfully?
I think it goes right back to what I have defined as the purpose of this blog, an exploration driven by these two questions: From where do we derive meaning in our lives? How can we live more meaningful lives?
It isn’t often enough that I stop and think about my time in in those terms. I think maybe there is danger in obsessing—trying to optimize every second to the point that we’ve got it all planned out. But I do think there is value in taking audit of how we actually spend our time, particularly those stretches that aren’t pre-planned. It’s easy to fill up our days with the stuff we have to do. Work and sleep snatch up like two-thirds of our day right off the bat. What about the rest?
My realization as I work through this; consumption is the path of least resistance, especially in our culture. Consuming stuff is addictive and it’s easy. I can scroll through Facebook endlessly to find interesting posts. Or I can throw on the TV and watch a great show. I can pop on a podcast or open a book. Don’t get me wrong, there’s meaning to be discovered in these things. But I think the balance between consuming and creating often goes ignored.
I use that word, ‘creating’, specifically because it also stands apart from ‘producing’. I’m usually just as likely to use my free time to start cleaning the house, work on a project, or do some work as I am to watch TV or consume something. Once again, there is value in producing too! I think if we’re fully present, we can actually derive a great deal of meaning from producing and consuming. The question is, do we take the time to process that meaning?
In Viola Davis’ Oscar acceptance speech (so glad she won!), she said, “I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” When I first heard those words, they rubbed me the wrong way, as if Davis was speaking down to other professions, which of course can carry great meaning as well. The more I’ve thought about her words though, the more I think I understand.
When I say create, it is art in it’s broadest sense that I’m speaking of. We don’t all get to make a living as artists, but I think we’re all capable of creating art. I agree with the notion that art celebrates what it means to life a life. Whatever the art form, there is an exploration of life at its core. And in that exploration, we find meaning.
So where the hell am I going with all of this. And how will it inform how I spend this dwindling time?
Well, here it is. I’m writing. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s art! I’m taking some time in my day to create.
To be honest, that’s always been the most fulfilling part of blogging. I love being able to share my writing, and I certainly appreciate feedback I receive (as an extrovert, that is definitely some good fuel!). Even if nobody reads this, however, it is the act of writing it from which I think the most meaning is derived. I write when I have something I want to explore further. Of course this has led to several writings I’ve never bothered to share.
Sometimes creating, for me, means writing a blog. I’m thankful to have discovered this creative outlet. Screenwriting and filmmaking are a couple other options for me that I’d like to do more often. I wish playing an instrument could be one—there’s time still for the guitar to finally take to me—but the point is, there is a creative outlet for us all. I think it’s worth spending some time with yours.
Creating might be the best way—maybe the only way—for us humans to truly process and share what is meaningful.