Photo: Mike Fillion
Some people are born good-looking. Some have the gift of gab. And some are lucky enough to be born smarter than the rest of us. Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature does not dole these characteristics out evenly.
If we tried to debate whether or not life is unfair, we’d probably come to a separate realization: Spending too much time focused on others’ strengths leaves us feeling weak. Focusing on our own strengths is what, in fact, makes us strong.
But there is something else to consider. The single piece that goes beyond the unfair distribution of talent or the importance of perspective and positive attitude, and which, regardless of how much money, looks or brains you have, evens everything out. That thing is time.
Manage your time
To spend more money, you have to have more money, but time is fixed and we all have the same amount to spare. How we choose to spend it can make a significant difference on the impact we have in our careers or in the world. More than anything else lately, I’ve become obsessed with how to spend my time. If I waste my money, I can always make more of it, but if I waste my time, there’s no getting it back. One big thing I’ve learned these past few months is that we have more control than we think over how we spend our time.
A year ago I was introduced to a guy with whom I shared some professional relationships. We met for lunch and talked — or rather, he talked. He’s a smart guy, for sure; I know that because he spent the lion’s share of lunch either trying to prove to me how smart he was, or just flat-out telling me.
Recognize when time is wasted
After my book came out, he contacted me to see if he could help me market it. I am always open to those who want to help spread my message, so again we went for lunch — and again, he spent a lot of time telling me how smart he was and how he could easily make my book a bestseller. But there was a notable exception to his soliloquy. This time around, he didn’t just tell me how smart he was and what he could do for me, but he also spent considerable time telling me how clueless I was and how I was doing everything wrong. This is when the importance of time came into play.
A lot of the things he was telling me to do were absolutely correct. And he may have even been right when he told me that I was making huge mistakes. It’s likely that my book sales could have benefited from his help. The problem was, I had no desire to spend any more time with him. Why would I want to waste my time on someone who made me feel bad? This is not the same as spending time with someone who is honest — honesty can be presented constructively, and by no means does it have to make you feel bad. I like spending time with people who talk about the opportunities I could have instead of telling me how stupid I am. The ideas may be the same, but when positioned as opportunities, I’m more excited by the ideas and by the person sharing them.
Value your time
When we choose to spend time with people who rub us the wrong way, no matter how smart or right they are, in the end we won’t feel like it was worth the time we gave them. And if we don’t like spending time with them, then we won’t be driven, excited or riveted by the advice they offer. That means time, advice and maybe even money will be wasted.
Sadly, the same can be said for some of the people with whom we spend time in our personal lives. I recently decided to end a relationship I called a friendship. The reality is, it was never a friendship to begin with. The time I spent with this “friend” was always stressful. It was normal for us to walk away from any time we spent together frustrated or even angry. Could I have worked hard to rescue it? I guess — but would that have been time well spent?
My friendships are not all lollipops and sunshine all the time, but the strong friendships have solid foundations. Tension is rare. If we do end up having harsh words, one person often ends up apologizing or expressing concern for the other. Those are the kinds of people I want to spend time with.
How do you label time?
I’ve also realized how I falsely label time. For example, who says that spending a weekend vegging in front of the TV is wasting time? The only time I waste is time I spend doing something that, in my gut, I know I shouldn’t. If I choose to spend time playing video games or sleeping in, then it’s time well spent, because I chose to do it. I did it for a reason — to relax, to decompress or to feel good, and that was what I wanted to do.
In a broader sense, this is what happens to us when we go through a midlife crisis. We hit an age that makes us realize we are closer to the day we’re going to die than to the day we were born. It is then that we realize that time is not endless and that we won’t live forever. For this reason, so many people attempt to reclaim their youth. They may have made lots of money and enjoyed great successes, but they can still find themselves feeling unfulfilled by it all. What left them feeling that way is not the money or success they earned for themselves, but rather the way they chose to spend their time getting there.
None of us should spend time in a job we hate only to wake up one day wishing we could do it all over again. We can choose to work wherever we want. The argument that one should not change jobs in a bad economy, for example, is false. If you really wanted a new job, that passion alone would be attractive to a new employer, whether or not you had the experience they were looking for. What’s more, bad economies don’t last forever. Even adjusting one’s perspective to see a bad job as temporary (which involves taking a measurement of time) will keep one excited and looking forward to what will come next.
Here’s the best part: My decision to manage my time with more focus than I manage anything else has created more opportunities than ever before. The reason for that is simple. When I choose to spend time with people and organizations I like, they are more likely to offer help or make introductions I would otherwise never have been given. When I choose to focus on the work I love, I do better at that work and enjoy it more — and others can see that.
What I’ve learned these past few months is simple: How I choose to spend my time has a greater impact on my having a good time than anything else.