Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the concept of time. The underlying principle is simple, that:
- time is a precious, non-renewable resource which we are gifted with (we don’t get time back, ever, except for conference calls that are cancelled);
- time is a gift of an indeterminable amount (we don’t know how much time we really have);
- time, by itself, has barely any meaning – it inherits characteristics from other personal traits (it’s what you make of it);
Then by its very nature, time is an unknown amount of currency through which we create our very own narrative that become a distinct part of who we were, are, and will become. Time is precious not simply because of how finite it can be, but rather the possibilities (infinite parallel universes of possibilities) it can help create.
As individuals and professionals, we go through most of our lives exchanging our time for monetary currency. We believe in the fairness of the labor market forces and spend a lot of our time thinking about how we can maximize the unit of $ for each unit of time we give in turn. Why do we make such trade in the first place? As individuals in the society, we’re led to believe that the $ amount we derive from the labor market affords us with the similar possibilities mentioned above, and there’s definitely a lot of truth to it. In short:
Units of Time -> Units of $ -> Possibilities
This is the cycle so deeply entrenched in our mind (and rightfully so) that sometimes it sounds almost absurd to spend time thinking about the more “philosophical” aspects of our career. Perhaps it’s simply Maslow at work here, but I, and many of good folks I know, have come to debate this fundamental principle in time.
If we’re willing to accept the premise laid out above, then how we spend our time is a natural and imperative question to address.
This may sound lofty, but perhaps by a way of background – I’ve been there with my family. I was a “Chinese restaurant brat” for the lack of a better phrase. My parents worked hard throughout their “success” and “failure”. For a significant portion of my life, we were supported by the U.S. social safety net – and I’ll always be grateful for that. As a child, I’ve been able to witness the effect monetary considerations have on how our family, and that of many others, fundamentally operate. As such, I understand that an ability to deliberate on “possibilities” without the baggage of human physical needs is a luxury in itself.
But deliberate we must.
If our “life” is a novel which we have direct authorship for, then for a significant part of our lives, we’ve been allowing far too many to collaborate on where the narrative should go. I don’t mean to cut out the influencers – ideas are a key part in it all, but there comes a point where one must work to outline how the story should play out. In other words, if this is a “hero’s journey” and you are that hero, what would your journey look like? Who will be those who’ve lent you a hand? What impossible missions will you be tasked with? What will your legacy be and how will this story ultimately end?
When you consider your life in such terms, then you’ll quickly realize why some of our most beloved stories direct an incredible amount of attention to the journey itself. A 500 page story? 490 pages are probably about the journey; remaining 10 about the ending. Ask yourself – do you really care about those endings? It’s a feel-good closure, but that’s probably all there is.
If we take our focus away from the ending we’ve all been anticipating for and instead focus on the kind of journey we want our hero to embark on – we will finally begin to think of our “time” in a new light. Now, how to embark on that journey is entirely up to you.
If how we spend our time is as important as we make it out to be, then how we communicate our purpose is the natural next step to think about.
To put this once again in the context of our very own “hero’s journey” – our heroes never accomplish their goals alone. It’s not a really interesting story if it’s just about someone taking out all the bad guys. As kids, perhaps our world was framed that way – with the clear good and evil in context. But as we learn about the world that surround us, we also learn about the complexity that make up who we are. We learn that even the most capable and powerful (pick your favorite superhero movie) rely heavily on others’ help in order to do good, and we learn to appreciate the struggle and the pain that folks endure in order to get to where they want to go.
But how does our hero gain the support of those around him/her? It’s comes down to how our hero communicates his/her purpose. As audiences, we are naturally drawn to characters who express and communicate a clear sense of purpose. As human beings, we tend to do the same in practice – it’s just perhaps that our world isn’t nearly as dramatic as the world of Les Miserables nor are we all made out to be Jean Valjean for that matter.
As our very own authors of this “novel”, we have an intrinsic responsibility to give our hero a voice, and this voice, hopefully, is what gives our “hero’s journey” its very own meaning.
Good people matter. Good people make a world of difference how we perceive, respond to, and narrate the journey ahead each of us. We’d be absolutely mad to think that whatever we’re set out to accomplish can, in fact, be conquered alone.
But how do you attract the “good people” you need to join you in this journey? How do you know that they are “good” for what you’ve set out to accomplish? How will they help you uncover paths you’ve never identified in your mind’s eye and show you possibilities you’ve never imagined before? Perhaps most importantly, how will you earn the appreciation of the honest critics you deserve and endure the betrayal of false friends through it all?
We don’t yet know. This is what keeps the journey as exciting as it can be. We are in the midst of it and no magic can unveil what the future holds in store for us. All we can hold on to are the things that make us who we are. Through it all, our hero’s voice will show the way.
So, my friends, are you ready to write a novel that can endure the passage of lifetimes? I am certain that you can and will overcome whatever obstacles that awaits you. You will be battered and torn, but you will emerge with your head held high. Where does that sense of optimism come from, you say? I’m glad you asked.
In this fairly short post, we’ve just walked through:
Concept of time ->
Purpose (how we spend our time) ->
Voice (how we communicate our purpose) ->
Support (how we convince others through our voice)
It’s a framework which needs further distillation through my personal journey, but I consider it a great start. With the working answers to these questions in mind, how could you not look at the road ahead with intense optimism?
In closing, I’ll leave you with this following quote from Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena“:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.