The value of time

Sep 25, 2016 · 5 min read

Time. It’s a commodity that we take for granted when it appears to be in abundance yet frantically despair when we realise it’s slipping through our fingers with no redress. And for all its value, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Sadly, many of us only realise this when it is indeed too late and we’re ruing over lost opportunities or experiences that we chose not to embrace.

We reflect on our naivety, how green we once were and often how plain ignorant our younger selves now appear in hindsight. But despite this inevitable regret, many people never really appreciate the value of time. Rather than making good on time lapsed, we soon consign our regret to a place of nonchalance; forsaking the chance to reflect and shape our subsequent approach to how we appraise the commodity of time.

I’m someone who is filled with regret at how I once valued time. In my youth, I arguably placed time on a pedestal to the extent that I wasn’t willing to take risks or explore new opportunities because I felt it might have represented a waste of time; time that I couldn’t get back. I was right. However, there is no reward without risk and rightly or wrongly, every risk we turn down represents a lost experience. I valued time but I didn’t appreciate the nature of how it escapes all of us.

That caution developed into complacency. I thought I was preserving time but I was allowing it to pass while I made little or poor use of it. Furthermore, my mindset had now turned to one where my stance remained due to an inability to act otherwise as a result of circumstance and anxiety.

Steve Harvey spoke of a similar experience of those who fritter their time away in their youth, just to try and play catch up once they’ve realised their mistake. I didn’t exactly waste my time out of overt recklessness. Nonetheless I was reckless in how I considered time and it had exactly the same result.

I lost years to this period of my life and who knows what else. Though this gave me the jolt I needed to view time in the way it should be. I realised I needed to make good on my folly and, almost predator-like, I did just that. If I had an interest in something, I was pursuing it. If an opportunity presented itself, I was seizing it. Good, bad or indifferent, I realised that every experience in life contributed to our being. And in ways we might not imagine or appreciate at the time but might actually serve us in the future. I had been denying myself this with my failure to see the worth of my time.

I’ve maintained said approach and it’s served me and my mental health well as I feel more confident that I’m making good use of a commodity that I can’t get back once it’s gone. Alas, I can’t make good on everything; ’tis the nature of time. But wherever possible, I’m salvaging from the wreck of my earlier failure.

In doing so, I’ve also learned to value my time as mine. Not in a selfish way of not wanting to share my time and efforts with others but in perceiving my time and the journey I take via the path it represents, to be mine.

Years ago, I bumped into a friend in my old neighbourhood who I’d not seen for a while. We got to talking and it was around the period when I started to realise how my value of time hadn’t exactly been prudent. I was lamenting at what I hadn’t done based on what was ‘expected’ by society; not what I hadn’t done to my own detriment due to what was good for me. My friend responded with a deeply apt rebuttal and said “life’s not a race”. That’s stuck with me since and I pay little regard to what I should have done based on society’s expectations or what others are doing and instead focus on myself and those important to me.

We can’t care about using the lives of others as a gauge for where we should be in our own lives because our allocation of time is ours, not theirs. Although so many people are caught up in doing just that. They don’t see the worth in their time because they measure it against someone else’s or society’s. And when they do realise their error, it’s often too late as they’ve used their time to create a life that isn’t necessarily for them and with little or no recourse. People chase the job, house, marital status, children, superficial notions of success and anything else they assume they’re ‘supposed’ to have based on a futile comparison. All the while they’re failing to appreciate their time as their own. Why chase a life that isn’t yours just to later realise you’re out of time to get to your own destination?

Our perception of time goes beyond recognising the worth of our own time but that of others too. So many of us have an inability to understand the finite nature of time, either in a discrete sense within a given period or as life itself. We make demands on others, totally indifferent to the impact it will have on their own time, and fail to see or appreciate this through our own blinkered perception.

How many times have we taken up the time of someone as we see their time as akin to ours? We see their x hours in the same regard as what we have prioritised for the same period. It’s the selfish nature of the human condition that even with a commodity as valuable and finite as time, we find ourselves unable to recognise the value of someone else’s time with their perception rather than our own.

Conversely, we need to learn to share our time. Spending excessively long days at a job to only neglect our partners, friends and families clearly doesn’t signal a true valuation of time. Nevertheless, it’s a common story for many as society has realigned our priorities to prevent us from recognising where our priorities should lie. We need to need to find the sensibility and balance to see our time for ourselves while apportioning it accordingly for others around us. This requires an altruistic approach that seems sparse when considered in tandem with the notion of our time.

Like good health, we appraise time with nonchalance when it is plentiful and desperately when it becomes scarce or reflects regret of past actions or lack of. Yet both commodities are rarely given the status we give wealth and material and tangible possessions that can come and go — with the proviso that we have the time and health to afford us the chance to do so. Clearly we need to reappraise the commodities in life that we should view as valuable with more esteem than those that we can always make good on should we mess up. Unfortunately, time isn’t so forgiving and once it’s gone, it’s gone.