Reflections on wasting time

Reflections on wasting time

“So much wasted time.”

It was reported that these were the last words of the actor, singer, and Partridge Family member, David Cassidy.

So sad. So heavy.

In the weeks that followed, these words shot around my brain as if driven relentlessly by a pinball wizard. The bells and whistles distracted me. The rising numbers on the scoreboard frightened me. It was as if I could hear the time flying. Wasting.

The noise since has quieted. The frantic pace has calmed. The words have transformed from pinball to soap bubble. Every now and then the bubble floats to the fore of my consciousness as if moved by a gentle internal breeze. I can choose to contemplate it, or I can blow it back with a cleansing breath.

I wonder. Is thinking about wasting time a waste of time? I don’t want to waste time. What does it mean to waste time? How do I not waste time? I’m exhausted.

Already, my data-wonk brain chastises me when I carelessly depress one-zero-zero rather than six-zero when I wish to warm my coffee in the microwave. Depressing that extra button is a waste of time. Or is this more of an efficiency issue? I waste time debating this in my head.

My executive-coaching brain continually reminds me not to allow my amygdala to be hijacked. (This means you should not spend time being upset about things out of your control or by running with your assumptions.) My teacher Dr. Mark Magerman coached me to my transformative a-ha moment about this. I’d had a nightmare that my son was choking on a button (poo, poo, poo) and I was unable to dislodge it. It seemed obvious to me that the dream represented my need to say something about an issue, and my struggle as I felt I could not. How much time have we all wasted on that? You feel wrong or slighted in some way and you dwell on it. It distracts you from life. Then Dr. Magerman asked me, “How do you think the button felt?” BOOM! How did I think the button felt? It’s just a button! Buttons have no evil intent.

How often do we assign intent to other people’s words or actions? How often do we misinterpret distraction for snub? I’ve saved a lot of time since my epiphany by checking out what someone says, or does, if I don’t understand its meaning. A simple “I’m not sure I understand what you said. Can you say it again in a different way?” Or even, “I was sad you didn’t say hello to me when I saw you at the coffee shop. Are you angry at me?”

I’ve also gotten better at accepting that apple trees grow only apples, no matter how badly you want an orange. How many times have we thought, “why can’t s/he just . . . “? It is human nature to want what we want. It is a colossal waste of time to yearn for, beg for, lament about your non-orange-bearing apple tree not giving you an orange. And we often forget to be grateful for the bounty of apples we do harvest from that tree. I’d like to tell you I’ve mastered this one. I haven’t.

Is relaxing a waste of time? I’m not great at it. If I’m scheduled to hang out with friends or family, you will usually find that I’ve brought my knitting or embroidery with me. It’s that idle hands thing that I just cannot reconcile. That feeling of guilt that I could be doing something that needs doing; rather than just hanging out. The work/life balance thing eludes me.

My colleague Sheryl reminds me that it’s okay to sit in contemplation. Intuitively, I know this is true. But will I regret it? With finite hours and minutes in this life, at the end, will I lament those moments spent idling, contemplating, doing nothing productive?

I’ve always been inspired by Rabbi Tarfon’s words in Pirke Avot: “It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it…” These words drive me daily in my work and my personal life. They occupy another one of the soap bubbles floating in my consciousness. They don’t allow for wasted time.

And yet, people are encouraged to “work hard and play hard.” This motto sports a lengthy shelf-life. It was favored by a young Theodore Roosevelt and by the modern day rapper Wiz Khalifa. In a world where balance is recommended, I fear I am too much Tarfon and not enough Khalifa.

Perhaps I’ve put too much thought into this. Maybe it’s been a waste of time. However, if I’m determined to live a life of meaning, to not feel as if I wasted time, then perhaps the endeavor was worthwhile. Moving forward I will honor and practice the words of my teachers, Rabbi Tarfon and Dr. Magerman, while pursuing a cautious practice of the words of Roosevelt and Khalifa.

Lisa Harris Glass is the chief planning officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

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