What matters most must never be at the mercy of what matters least.

It’s been just over a month since I made the move to living solo, and life since has been quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There have been a lot of adjustments, and not all of them have come easily (especially learning to budget! Seriously, send help), but the biggest change I’ve noticed is that of my own mentality. I don’t know if it’s a result of my new quarters, my new neighbourhood, or the people I’ve been spending my time with, but my heart and mind have been fuelled with a renewed energy that has given rise to a sense of passion, priority and direction. I’m riding on the momentum and I’m happy to report that train shows no sign of stopping any time soon. 🙂 But, in a similar spirit to that of my recent move, in order to make room for the new and exciting, one must first declutter and dispose of the old and useless. 

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching Countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully dishevelled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job. How do people cram them in?”
– About a Boy

I think it ties into what seems to have become the most significant of the five goals I put in place for this year: not wasting a moment of the time I have been given. You hear all the time that at the end of their lives, more than anything, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do. The words they didn’t say, the risks they didn’t take, and the time they didn’t spend investing in something lasting and meaningful. I’ve found that by attempting to constantly remind myself of the big picture, it’s helped me become more mindful of the present-moment choices I’m making, and really prioritise my time. I remember last year writing a post about how I didn’t understand how people made time for work, exercise, keeping on top of chores, writing, reading, Facebooking, or socialising. But if you work on making it a habit to ask yourself if something truly holds the weight in the grand scheme of things you may feel it does right now, you can weed out the wasteful, and focus on the meaningful.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like the world’s pace seems to be moving faster with every passing day. (Yes, I realise that with that statement comes the risk of publicly channelling my inner old fart.) I think it has much to do with technology:  we’re so used to so much information being instantaneous that we’ve inadvertently constructed the mass illusion that we don’t have as much time as we used to, and that the world is more fast-paced and demanding that ever. Add to the fact that the majority of human contact has experienced a paradigm shift from dinner parties and coffee dates to texts, blogs and e-mails, and we add a sense of isolation to the mix: we feel anxious about all the things we have to do, and we feel we have to do it all alone. Yet our actions are in direct conflict with actually doing anything about it: we spend hours checking status updates, creeping photographs and reading online tabloids about gossip and scandal, and then have the nerve to say we don’t have enough time for the things we need to do! It can be easily addressed when boiled down to a simple idea: if you don’t like something, change it.

A friend of mine recently called people out on it. She’s a giant bookworm, and someone had made a remark about not understanding how she could possibly get through so many novels in a month, irritatingly exclaiming that they wished they had the time to indulge in reading. The thing is, we all have the exact same amount of time – we just choose to spend it differently. Becoming aware of wasteful habits allows us to make different choices, eliminate what’s ultimately meaningless, and spend our time on things that really are important. I like to think this can be applied not just to activities, but on people too – when having an argument, for instance, taking a second to remind yourself that your immediate anger and frustration with someone is probably outweighed in the big picture by how much you care about them. Just ask yourself: if today was your last day on earth, would you want to spend it on something that’s really a waste of time? Would you choose to fight with someone, or enjoy just being with each other? Would you choose to surf the Internet, or do something you’ve always wanted to do? I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to be okay with having dishes unwashed overnight, or laundry not done one weekend. Life’s too short sometimes to get caught up in the obligations to the mundane, and a messy room once in a while can be indicative of time better spent actually living. 🙂

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
– Goethe

It shouldn’t have to take getting to your final breaths to realise what matters. We can all be proactive right now. Recognise the faux significance of the immediate and ephemeral. And with people, words, and actions, make a choice to prioritise what’s really important.

So in that spirit, I’ve been doing a bit of an evaluation on my habits. I mentioned earlier that lately, I’ve felt a new sense of passion, energy and direction, and the amazing thing is that I can start reorganizing my life this very moment. One thing I’m guilty of is spending too much time online. Sometimes it’s spent well – keeping in touch with friends elsewhere on the globe, or reading articles on psychology or science I’d still consider productive. But no matter how compelling, reading blogs about people I have no connection to, streaming episodes of Britain’s Next Top Model or The Bachelorette (what? It’s a fascinating study in social neurosis!) or catching up on the latest in the life of Cheryl Cole are not indicative of time well spent. And if this was my last day on earth, these things wouldn’t even be on the list. So I’m determined to start shaping a life I hope will allow me to avoid later regret. Dive into those things I’m drawn to, keep tackling those fears, retrain myself to stop wasting mental energy on worry and insecurity, and peel those ideas, dreams and “one days” from the walls of my mind and thrust them into the real world. Stop wishing, stop wasting, and start living with intent. There are so many things I want to do, and as Mr. Obama recently said, it shouldn’t take the risk of catastrophe to get people to do the right thing. The right thing is making the most of every moment we’re given, choosing the eternal over the evanescent, and learning how to spend our time, thought and energy wisely. The road I’ve been on may have become drained and routine, but the path ahead is glittering. I can’t wait to dive straight in to new ventures, lifestyle changes, and creative ideas over the next little while. I’ve been guilty of saying I don’t have time for this and that for too long. Of course I do. I just have to make room. This may mean less frequent stops in the blogosphere, but at the end of it, I’ll be able to say I lived, and made use of everything I was given. Or at least tried my damnedest.

Stars, hide your fires, for these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
Mumford and Sons

Let the next chapter commence!

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30 comments

  1. this one is actually very nice and inspiring! i guess if i look at my life in your eyes, all i’ve been doing are mundane things that don’t really matter. now the question for me would be what should i be doing? hmmm….anyways thanks so much for this wonderful article!

  2. Em, I absolutely adore your outlook – it’s always so refreshing and inspiring. Settling into a new life really does give you the opportunity to re-evaluate your priorities and schedule. It’s something I have realized needs some more tweaking in my own life.

    Also, that bit about taking a moment during an argument to look at it in a big picture sort of way is genius! This is something I need to implement immediately.

    1. I’m really going to try and make it a habit; it’s so easy to get caught up and carried away with emotions in the heat of the moment but I think we can all make a conscious decision to focus on the big picture with practice 🙂

  3. About a Boy!!!! Such an under rated movie! Great point though, I think we all struggle with not having enough time but it all goes back to choosing whether you’re going to do something about it or sit there whining =) I think there’s a really important lesson here, thinking of looking back at life without regret, and being proactive about spending it as wisely and unwastefully and productively as possible. Because you’re right, at the end of it all, it’s not the arguments or grudges I’ll want to remember, it’ll be the memories and the happy times, so why not try to have as many as possible right now.

  4. I agree, if you don’t like what you’re doing, then change it. In saying that, being ready to change, willing to change, willing to let go . . . it’s not as easy as one might hope. I think that’s why lifestyle change tends to work so well as a catalyst, you’re pushed to let go + move on. Still, I think you’re right, making room for what’s important, discarding what’s not. Brilliant post, hey 🙂

  5. Very inspiring Em as always. Reading your posts always makes me want to do and be something so much more. Loved the Goethe quote, its so true. Agree with Manderz, if we could all implement your idea of taking that moment in an argument to think about the big picture, I think the world would be far less full of heartache and sadness. I am going to try to remember that next time hubby and I are having a spat! Life is too short to spend time negatively! Really great post and glad to hear your feeling more uplifted.

  6. Beautiful post Emily! I’ve always loved the ideology that the ONLY thing we ALL have the same amount of is time. We don’t have equal resources, money, education, intelligence, personality, looks, but we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s about how we use those hours. (Also, loved the quote from About a Boy. I’ve never seen it but I’ve actually been breaking down my own time into 30 minute increments. 30 minutes to run, 30 minutes to meditate etc. I find I get so much more done! Perhaps I will dedicate 4 units of time to watching that movie sometime)

  7. This is one of my favorite posts of yours 🙂

    “if today was your last day on earth, would you want to spend it on something that’s really a waste of time?”

    ^
    Great line, Em. And I loved that you also quoted About a Boy. One of my favorite movies ever!!! I really wish the pace of life would slow down, as well. I get so tired of rushing everywhere, and always being connected thru the online world and thru my phone. I really like to disconnect often and enjoy life more the way it should be enjoyed.

    1. Definitely. One thing that’s probably NOT a healthy habit I’ve got into in all of this though is putting sleep on the backburner – you know that “Coffee! You can sleep when you’re dead!” retro poster – that kind of becomes my mentality a little too easily; I’ll stay up way too late if time is being spent well enjoying life, or rectifying bad situations… because it’s more ofa priority to me than laying there unconscious lol. But I have to remember that sleep isn’t optional sometimes 🙂

  8. I’m at that pinnacle moment. Where you wake up and look around and think “oh, I’m still here.” I need to change some things in my life and the hardest part is knowing whether I’ll be financially ok to do that, and whether I’ll hurt people along the way because I’m trying to make myself a better person. I too was wasting time surfing the internet recently and I watched a movie trailer where the actress said “I’m the main character of my life.” If I was watching my life in a movie, I’d feel sorry for me, and I really don’t like that thought. It helps to hear how your journey has brought some renewal. I’m just really scared about the budgeting part too. I wish us both well. Thanks for sharing Emily.

    1. I definitely wish you well too – “If I was watching my life in a movie, I’d feel sorry for me, and I really don’t like that thought” was a really powerful way to put it, and I think sometimes the biggest change can come from the simple realisation that life might not be something you’d be proud of – but that discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be is a very powerful thing.

  9. This is something I’ve been thinking about more and more as I embark on this new journey of mine. I know I will need to make a lot of adjustments and the biggest one will be in my online life. There are things I will have to eliminate to make room for the changes I’m about the take on and I’m learning to be OK with it. I don’t think I will ever fully disappear, but I just won’t be as present as I am now.

    Love the quote by Goethe

    1. I actually saw it in my lawyer’s office on her wall and had to steal it! We will have to become penpals instead, with us both taking some time off from the online world 🙂

  10. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people tell me they WISH THEY HAD TIME TO READ AS MUCH AS I DO. Yes, it required all caps. I get so so so so tired of hearing this. As you so eloquently said in your post, it’s about the choices we make. I rarely turn on my tv at night, and I make time to read before going to bed. Time is still a precious commodity for me and I struggle to fit it all in as much as the next person, but if you make it a priority, it will happen. 🙂 Great post, Em!

    1. Thanks! And you were totally the one I was talking about because I remember how mad you got when someone said they “wished they had as much time as you” to read!!

  11. I just don’t understand how it takes 4 units to professional dishevel hair. Just saying.

    I’ll miss you around the blogosphere though – but I totally understand, sometimes I wonder what I am doing spending all this time in some alternate reality.

  12. I starred this post in my google reader so I can come back to it ro remind myself: “in order to make room for the new and exciting, one must first declutter and dispose of the old and useless.” Lately I’ve been trying to “find time” to do more with Topher – as well as keep my house spotless, get my school work done, blog regularly, blah blah blah – without realizing that in order to do MORE with him – I have to do LESS in another area. I’m still adjusting to having a messy house and a sink full of dirty dishes – but I cherish the extra time with my son 🙂

  13. I loved this. An inspiring way to start the day.

    My favorite part: ‘we all have the same amount of time.’

    So so true. Thanks for sharing you! Hope today is beautiful!

    ~Shauna

  14. This is a very good reminder for me right now as I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff I’ve got to be doing. In fact, it’s pretty fitting that I read this the same day I write about wishing for more time and peace. I’ve just got to make peace and time for myself, instead of standing by just wishing for it.

  15. I really enjoyed this Emily,
    It is so true that we all have the same amount of time and I really loved the quotes.
    I wonder sometimes however, if we might be a bit further ahead if we worried less about doing so much and slowed down?
    I used to work, work, work, and I missed out on so much of life because I believed that work was so important. Now I think that it is sometimes important to waste an afternoon napping or playing Angry Birds…
    I don’t think that our self-worth should be tied in any way to what or how much we do. Who we are is so much more important.
    Thank you for a thoughtful piece as always!

  16. I agree with what you’ve said. I catch myself saying the same things – I don’t have the time to do what I want to do, but perhaps I spend too much time watching Star Trek and knitting when I could be out doing that run that I KNOW I should do today but don’t want to do anymore.

    I know that part of my problem is simply the adjustment to working full-time and that WILL take time. I’m so used to having a different schedule that having a new one will require time to adjust. I’ve certainly been taking steps to expand what I do – to hang out with people face to face and to try to take a little more time to connect and communicate. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m trying and I think that in the end, that’s what matters.

  17. Well, thanks for showing the mirror ! Pretty useful though I have no friends beyond fb here, living in a far off city away from home. But I could do with not wasting my time.

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