It's early and the whole day is in front of me. How will I spend my time?
When I was in middle school, frozen yogurt was served during recess for fifty cents. Sometimes I had fifty cents, other times I had to borrow it, and other times I didn't get to have frozen yogurt. Back then, it seemed like a pretty big deal. But now, looking back, whether or not I had frozen yogurt had no impact on my life. I don't really remember how it tasted or any particular times that I ate it. If there's any impact, it's probably that I lost a few hours of expected life by eating it.
It's interesting how things that seem like good ideas, or even seem important, can turn out to be completely irrelevant. The anguish over young love, which seemed so strong and so important back then, yet now isn't much more than a blur. The hours spent in school learning things like biology, which have now been totally forgotten. The acquisition or denial of that amazing gadget that we just have to have for Christmas. I waged a yearlong campaign to get an Atari Lynx, and considered not geting one to be one of the toughest struggles I had gone through back then.
I don't bring all this up to say that what happens in childhood doesn't matter, though. Not at all. In that same era, I think about how I met my childhood best friend, Charlie, who taught me Chinese and took me to Taiwan with him. Even today, those experiences (along with many others) are with me. We were issued TI-85 calculators back then, too, which was the first device I ever programmed on. I learned a lot. My parents never really let me watch TV back, and that, amongst so many other good decisions they made, have shaped me in positive ways.
So while we can get emotionally invested in a great many things, many of them will be forgotten or rendered irrelevant through the passing of time. That makes them, in a sene, wastes of time.
Whenever I do anything now, I try to think about how it will affect me in twenty years. A friend today asked if I wanted to have a cheat day on my diet and go eat at a good burger place half an hour away. That sounds really good-- I'm about due for a cheat day and french fries are one of the only junk foods that still taste good to me. But long term, will I even remember what the burger tastes like? Probably not. Even if I did, would that really be beneficial? If I make a sandwich in my RV, I can eat in about twenty minutes. If I go for a burger, it will take about two hours. I expect that work on SETT will benefit me and others in the future, and I'd rather not give up an hour and a half of it. I didn't go.
Almost all of my time now is spent on stuff that will help me in the future. I write because I want to connect with people, and be a better communicator. I program because I want to build something that could help communities form. I eat healthy food to preserve my health. I've found that recently I've become a lot more selective about who I hang out with, trying to spend more time around people I really respect. I play poker because it sharpens my mind and earns me money. I don't own very much stuff because I can think of very few posessions that impacted my life long term. I read every day, almost all non-fiction, to learn new things that will help me in the future. I travel because pretty much every trip I've ever been on has stayed with me.
Before you say it, I'll admit that even trivial things that we do add up to create the atmosphere in which we live. Maybe having the frozen yogurt was a social experience that made me a little more personable, maybe pining over some crush in middle school built my emotions. To that I'd say that we are going to be shaped by our environments no matter what. By eliminating "wastes of time" and substituting new activities, we're going to, on average, have a better environment. Yes, there's variance in that, and we'll miss out on some things that would have been beneficial, but we're adding even more of those experiences than we're losing out on.
I like the term "spending time", because it is actually a finite resource that is being spent. A person who spends all of their money on fun things with no intrinsic value will find himself broke and desperate as he gets older. Someone who invests his money will be in a much better position. It's the same with time-- waste it away on frivolity and you may someday find yourself with regret. But invest your time, and you'll find that it pays dividends in the future.
By the way, if you like hashtags and brevity, you can follow me on twitter.
Photo is a cool iceberg sculpture in Oslo near the opera house.