Why you need to buy back time in your 40s.
A while ago I found myself at one of those professional crossroads that normally come in your 40s, after a more-than-a-decade long career. You start considering what your next phase might be and realize that while you were busy building a resume you ended up losing sight of what you really want.
The natural decision seemed to take some time off — 6 months actually, calculated based on how long I could go and enjoy that time without being pressured by financial matters.
Needless to say it was a good decision. One of the best I ever made.
However I am not writing this to advocate that everyone should do the same. It is an option that depends on many circumstances- professional, personal and financial. Children and mortgages tend to get in the way.
However during that time I learnt something invaluable: that after you have spent your 20s and 30s employing your time, in your 40s you need to start buying it back. And that will make you not just better at what you do, but exponentially happier.
We all have a dysfunctional relationship with time, without even realizing it. We live hectic schedules, packed with work-related and social engagements. As much as we complain about ‘not having time’, we are in fact fooling ourselves into believing that we would (and could) do some many things ‘if only we had the time’.
This is in fact untrue and I was able to realize it because I subtracted ‘work’ — the main variable in our life when it comes to time- from the equation. Not working unlocked a disproportionate amount of time (and brain space) that in some instances was even disruptive.
Not working placed me outside the rules and norms through which most people manage their lives and I immediately felt outside pressure and judgment on how I would go and use my time.
I realized that allocating time was essentially a value negotiation. I was constantly making micro and macro decisions about what I wanted to do, what had more value for me, but also… what would meet other people’s expectations. A totally subjective and personal decision — what am I going to do with myself today? — became, in my mind, an objective one — what would people/society/friends/family think about what I am going to do with myself today?
It would have been easier to comply with this second pressure — and in fact this is what we do when we drift into an endless stream of work and organized entertainment, placing value in the ‘I am so busy’ condition and in the end letting others decide for us. Having to ask myself everyday what was that I really wanted made me realize that I hadn’t been doing it enough before.
And it was ok before, until it wasn’t.
Like most people I had blamed work for sucking up my time and preventing me to do what I wanted to do. It is an excused approved by social standard. Career goals have replaced life goals.
Eliminate work, and the category of ‘things that you do on your own’ becomes much bigger. Huge, in fact. No more excuses and no more laziness in having third parties involving you in some kind of activity. Whether it’s travels, sports, a new learning experience, if you really want to do it, it has to be a personal, solitary experience. You have to take responsibility for it, motivating yourself, taking pleasure on it without necessarily have anyone patting your back.
This opened up possibilities for myself that I didn’t consider before, but also made me test my abilities and sometimes acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t always as good as I thought. Doing more things on my own allowed me to explore my potential and my limits.
So what’s next? How to take this lessons into my next phase, the ‘working’ life?
A friend of mine who prepared for the marathon for a year wrote that one of the things he learnt while he was training is that ‘the time for your personal goals doesn’t exist, you need to create it by subtracting time to something else’. He said that in the end he didn’t think he ended up giving up much in his life to make time for the training — he didn’t lose much sleep, he didn’t miss out of what he wanted to do — he just managed to ‘find time’ that was there but he couldn’t see it before he had a purpose for it.
Being able to truly see time and independently decide what to do with it is the greatest achievement of my sabbatical. I invested six months to hopefully get the rest of my life back.