Time

Driving to the Post Office the other day to get my mail, I started to think about the price we pay to live on Shelter Island, especially in time. No mail delivery. Time. No garbage pickup. More time. To leave the island or return to it, we have to wait in line for a ferry. Even more time. I can’t imagine some of my up-island friends taking the time to drive to the Post Office every day to get their mail. Their heads would explode!

Of course, wherever you live, life can be as hectic as you want it to be, but in my experience, places seem to have an energy of their own. Haven’t you noticed this? I lived out west for a few years in Tempe, Arizona, and I found the energy there to be more welcoming and friendly than in New York City, for example. The energy on Shelter Island seems a bit more leisurely than the rest of Long Island. Not that we don’t work hard here, but even when I’m busy or on a deadline, things don’t seem as crazed as they might.

Shelter Island seems to be saying to us, slow down. The signs are all around us, literally. Look at the speed limits. Even if you wanted to race around like a crazy person, as soon as you get in your car you are reminded to chill out and relax a little.

Einstein once said, “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” I’m by no means comparing life on Shelter Island to sitting on a red-hot cinder! The point is that we experience time differently in different circumstances.

What this has allowed me to notice is that many people have a strange relationship with time. Time-related stress is one of the most frequent complaints I hear from my clients: “I wish I had more time.” One of the things I do as a coach is I listen to the way my clients use language. A lot can be learned about how we think from the words we choose.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I need more time.”

Think about the literal meaning of these expressions. It’s as if time was a resource like money. Even proactive language like “time management” and “allocating time” treats it as a resource. My favorite metaphor for illustrating this is the expression “spending time.” Well, time is money, as the saying goes.

If time is in fact a resource, it’s quite different from any other resource I can think of. No matter what you do, no matter how rich or powerful you are, you can’t accumulate more time. Everyone has the same amount of time each day. Twenty-four hours, no more, no less. So when we talk about wanting more time, what do we really mean? We mean we want to use the time we do have differently.

But notice the result of that subtle change in language. It makes us responsible for how we’ve chosen to use our time. When you’re overworked and stressed out by too many obligations, insufficient sleep, and lack of exercise, it’s comforting to think that the problem is “out there somewhere.” It’s not your fault. You just don’t have the time. But when you confront the reality that you have chosen to use your time ineffectively, the burden falls on you to make a change. And this change, more often than not, means learning to say no. No to other people, and especially no to yourself.

Saying yes feels great, though, doesn’t it? When people need us, we feel valuable. And saying yes to our own urges and impulses feels good, too. But learning to say no, kindly but firmly, will do more to relieve time-related stress than the best planner you can buy.

Some people are afraid that saying no is selfish. But how generous can you be when you are overworked and overstressed? Some people are afraid that saying no will make others upset with them. But when people start to see how responsible and committed you are to the things that are most important to you, they will understand the why behind your no.

How does this advice strike you? What is your relationship with time?

Let me close by illustrating just how strange our relationship with time has become. Imagine for a moment that everyone on earth vanished–poof, just disappeared. A few minutes later, aliens arrive here for the first time. Hard to believe both things would happen one right after the other, yes, but humor me for a moment. The aliens begin to explore our homes, our businesses. They observe in almost every room in every building a similar object. Sometimes it’s on the wall, sometimes it’s on a table, but with few exceptions, they find it everywhere. They examine photographs and videos of us, and they observe that most of us even wear this object on our bodies. The prominence and prevalence lead to only one logical conclusion. It is a symbol of our God. What is the object? A clock.

©2005 Curtis G. Schmitt

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