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Tapestries-5 \\ Time
Following up on last week's question about time.
1. What I’m thinking
Last week I listed some questions I’m thinking about. The question I received the most responses in relation to was the one about time. In that edition, I asked about time: “what is it, what is our relationship to it, and what are some productive ways of thinking about it?” I probably spend too much… time thinking about it, but it seems like many of you do too. I want to expand briefly on some of the questions time raises for me, and also share (in the following section) some books and content that speak about the topic with wisdom and grace.
One question I ask myself is whether I’m “using” “my” time “well.” I’m now 32, and have become conscious of how quickly I’ve reached an age that several years ago felt quite distant. The implication — one echoed by those much older than me — is that the path to 50, then 60 and onwards, will pass with increasing pace. My sense has been that arriving at those gates with the feeling of a life well-lived will be driven by an effective use of my time in the preceding years. But to focus on the concept of using time well is to possess it, and to place a persistent burden on it. To focus too much on optimizing time, or extracting something from it, is to apply the same utility-focused lens we apply to many other things in our lives, and my reflection is that it’s not particularly healthy or productive.
…But I do it anyway, because it’s impossible not to. Our sense of self is largely determined by the story we maintain about where we came from (past), who we are right now (present), and who we want to become (future). Time is therefore the base fabric of the tapestry of our identities, and using it wisely is how we impose our visions of ourselves, onto our-selves. I wrote about time several years ago, and as you’ll see in the following section, read about it a lot too. It’s obviously a topic I enjoy, but I acknowledge I need some balance in the way I approach it, because to abstract away the concept of time is perhaps just another way of waking up one day with the feeling that I’ve "wasted” it.
Having discussed time briefly, I want to end by mentioning the present. I’m trying to focus on the present because with all this talk of time, it’s impossible to avoid the ultimate conclusion that the present is all that really exists. My life is good; I have a healthy family, wonderful wife, fantastic friends, and engaging work. I am lucky, privileged and blessed, and I don’t acknowledge it enough. Cultivating an appreciation of the present is rooted in gratitude, but it’s also rooted in honesty and practicality: if I’m unable to find contentment today, there’s really no hope for the rest of my life. The following section has some great content on time, and I really hope you indulge some of it, but if you take one thing from this edition of Tapestries, I hope it’s a moment to appreciate the richness of the present.
2. What I’m consuming
Seneca was a Roman philosopher who lived 2,000 years ago. He wrote lots of wonderful, short, practical essays, and On The Shortness of Life is one of my favorites. His assessment of time and how we can address it is truly timeless, and the quote below is just one of many fantastic pieces of wisdom. It’s an easy and short read, and one I highly recommend as a gem of practical, Stoic philosophy.
I quoted this book several weeks ago, and I’m quoting it again here because it’s the best modern book I’ve read about moderating our relationship with time. As you’ll see from the quote below, I’ve internalized a lot of Burkeman’s stance towards time, and recommend the read to anybody who perhaps over-indulges the desire to optimize their lives and eke out efficiencies, as means to some future end.
Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite writers. He is an Englishman who has lived in the US for many years. With Queen Elizabeth’s passing this week, I was keen to hear his reflections on the person, the institution, and the context, and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but I do respect his insights and share many of his values. Here, I thought he did a wonderful job of honoring the Queen and capturing the moment. There are many great quotes in the piece, and I highly recommend the short read. I wanted to share this quote, because as much as any, it summed up for me the power of the amazing woman that passed, who’s life provides us with as timely a mirror as any to consider how we act in the world:
3. What I’m writing
In the last edition, I discussed shifting the emphasis of the book from focusing on principles, to instead emphasizing the change in distance in our lives, and how that should compel a reframing of our values and how we act in the world. The emphasis is a shift from “Hi I’m Daniel and these are my principles” to “The nature of distance has evolved and fundamentally changed the texture of existence; these are the changes I see, and how I intend to act within them in order to live a life aligned with my principles.”
It’s more intuitive and less preachy. I think it also flows better. I made a start this week on reframing some existing sections of the book. It’s a bit of a slog to reframe, but I think that once I’ve reoriented the existing chapters, writing the remainder should flow a little easier with this new approach. The most important thing at the moment is carving out enough time to start making a dent in the rest of the first draft. Need more… time, or at least a more deliberate way of prioritizing it.
Have an epic weekend fam, see you soon.