My life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.
People ask me, with some regularity, how I “do it all.” Of course, I don’t. There is plenty I don’t do. And I have been thinking about that a lot lately, of the immensely different ways we each populate our hours and what they say about what we value.
Every hour of our life is a choice, a trade-off between competing priorities and desires. We are all given the same number of hours in a day. What do you prioritize? What do you care about? Where are you spending your time?
In the last several years my own life has simultaneously narrowed and widened. It has narrowed because I have substantially cut down on external (non-job and non-family) commitments. I say no much more often than I say yes. And even beyond commitments about my physical presence, I’ve withdrawn in a real way: for example, I spend much less time on the phone catching up with friends.
But even in this narrowing my life has startled me with an unforseen richness. It’s like I stepped into a dense forest but then I looked up to see an enormous expanse of the sky. Somehow, in my turning inward, I have learned to see the glittering expanse of my own life. Maybe it is not having the other distractions. Maybe it is that is training my gaze I have opened my heart. I am not sure.
I spend my time with my family, I spend my time writing, I spend my time reading, I spend my time with a small number of people I entirely trust and wholly love. I run at 5:30 in the morning because that’s the only time when the trade-off isn’t too steep for me. It is very rare for me to have dinner, drinks, or lunch with a friend one-on-one. The same is true for Matt and me with other couples. On the other hand there are many evenings where I sit and read to the kids while they are in the tub, when I get into bed at 8:15pm with a book, and there are a great many days full of work.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard
Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we “don’t have time.” The truer response would be “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.” This may be harsh, but I think it’s also true. Let’s take ownership of our choices rather than bemoaning their results. Do you want time to meditate? Time to go to yoga? Time to spend reading with your children? Well, something else has to go. Unfortunately time, at least in the framework of a day or a week, is a zero sum game. The ultimate one, perhaps.
Think long and hard about how you spend your precious hours, the only currency in this life that I personally think is actually worth anything. A lot of these decisions are made instinctively, without deliberate thought or analysis. But that’s how life is, isn’t it? We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked. We protect fiercely time for those things and people and events we truly value. And those things, people, events we never seem to have time for? Well, that tell us something important too.
I believe that if you look carefully at the map of your hours over a week or a month, you will see a reflection of what it is in this life you prize most highly. Do you like what you see?
Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children. Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child. She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.