HOW WE SPEND OUR TIME

Love/passion — or even the illusion of it — will make us do crazy things. So excited we are by this possibility of being understood, of being appreciated, of being of service, we enthusiastically hand over metaphorical (and sometimes literal) purse strings to our lives. Handing over our time and energy in an open ended commitment. A misguided expression of love.

“Whatever I have is yours.”

“Call anytime.”

“Whatever you need.”

“I’ll work around your schedule.”

“I’ll be there for you.”

“For better or worse.”

“Take the meeting whenever they can do it.”

We issue blank checks* and wonder how our lives get emptied out. Hollowed out by commitments.

In my old life, in that crazy “nonprofit executive” role, nearly everyone is perceived in some way as more important than you are. Certainly donors. Of course the people served. God forbid you should not be available to coworkers.

In nonprofit world, there are endless expectations and you will never meet them all. Everyone who ever gave a dollar to charity has an opinion about how you should do your job. And what you should earn while doing it. A sea of opinions and expectations while working on the problems created by those demanding accountability from you.

Many people have these 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, convenience store kinds of demands. Teachers for example. Pretty much any role where people might have a passion for the work. Assumption is that your “passion” is so complete and you are so “tireless” you’ve turned over your life to others so they can take whatever they want.

(I HATE that expression. Tireless. I was not fucking tireless. I was TIRED. ALL THE TIME. More about that another time.)

The worst are colleagues who also think everyone else is more important. The coworkers so eager to please and feel successful they fill your schedule to the brim — writing check after check on your time. Spending your life.

It amazes me now that I ever let anyone else spend my life that way. Who would hand over their bank account so someone else could spend their money? We do it with time instead — far more precious and irreplaceable.

My awakening came when I had cancer. Though I don’t recommend it, cancer has clarifying benefits. As I worked with my oncologist to schedule my chemo sessions, I felt overwhelming relief that some sessions conflicted with one external meeting I hated.

Hated. Truly. It was one of those fake, bullshit, window dressing “collaborative” meetings and 3/4 of the people there probably hated one another in some way. I know I wasn’t popular. I was barely tolerated. Never underestimate the shadow side of nonprofits: jealousy, pettiness and scarcity mentality.

As I scheduled my chemo sessions, I thought “Thank god I don’t have to go to that meeting!” Chemo seemed an attractive alternative and I enjoyed the flood of relief …. and then came a rush of grief. My god, what had I been doing to myself, if chemo was preferable to what was on my calendar?

Every thing on your schedule is a check you’ve written on the most precious account you hold. That of your time and energy. Recurring meetings are automatic withdrawals. Subscriptions you’ve issued to others to use as they see fit.

We all have jobs and roles and relationships that sometimes require of us that we do what drains us. What saps our energy. Chores we perform. Choices we make. Sometimes.

But if we leave the account open, hand out our account number with no stop payment date, one day we won’t have anything in the account for the people who love us most, for the projects we love best.

Now, I have a very small number of blank checks I’ve handed out — to my mom and to my son, and a few others. To people who won’t take more than I can give. Call anytime. Whatever you need. If alive, I will come.

ADVICE:

  • Guard your “time and energy” account.
  • Be a good steward of your life.
  • Stop issuing blank checks.
  • And don’t give anyone else your account number.
  • You are responsible for how you “spend” your time and energy.

PS: I wrote this for me and maybe for you too.

*a “check” is an old school paper document used for payment upon which you were required to write the date and the amount in numbers and words. With a handwritten signature usually in script. It contained all your personal deets — address phone and drivers license number pre-printed at the top.