A Tale of Time and Expectations
The Twenties. A century ago, it was the yet-to-begin decade. Roaring. It would see itself immortalized by Gatsby’s green light and by the flamboyant tales of opulent speakeasy parties in the time of Prohibition. It was the coming of age of the world post its Great War: a hopeful world ready to cooperate in the League of Nations, a vibrant world beating forward to the tunes of the Jazz Age.
The Twenties now refer to the disclaimer tag on financial articles discussing why persons aged 20–29 are both the economy’s only hope for salvation and the worst thing to happen to it yet. It is the modern-day Greek tragedy: everything happened off-stage while the actors were still un-introduced, and their fate was already sealed before they began.
Parents and mentors are now quick to prescribe perfectly coherent life advice such as take the time to travel the world and be lost while saving for your first mortgage and also make sure you attend that one young entrepreneurs meeting next Thursday or you’re never going to have a chance at a real job. Oh, and also don’t forget to update your LinkedIn profile — you surely don’t want to be left behind by employers’ keyword search algorithm, do you?
In the upper right corner of all these glaring notifications and reminders, is the tiny clock of our cellphones. A constant reminder of the lost productivity behind each minute not spent discovering the blue beaches of Panama or polishing up the cover letter for that internship.
By now Sophocles would have lost interest in millenial Ajax’s life story and would probably be asking himself why do we give so much importance to small portable clocks.
Perhaps if we are to live our lives as the pre-written predictions of business analysts and well-meaning self help books, this generation ought to take away some of the Greeks’ wisdom. Their playwrights beat us to the tragic hero, and so did their language in understanding time not only as a measurable variable but as a component of human life.
Ancient Greek offers us Kairos and Chronos. Chronos is linear time. The time our Google Calendar revolves around. The time we are so afraid will run out.
And then there’s Kairos. Kairos is the right time. Kairos is the extra semester you took in college because sanity was more important than taking those two extra classes in the Spring. Kairos is the week you took off work to visit your aging grandparents; Kairos is circumstantial, it is the clock that bases itself on opportunities and moments instead of seconds and minutes.
Perhaps we then ought to think of time and the deadlines we set for our goals in terms of Kairos. Let that seminar you take in the Fall be the stepping stone to prepare the launch of your new business. Plan out your graduate education by asking yourself how much closer does it bring you to the next moment you want to check off of your life goals. Make the most of today not in fear that it will run out, but in acknowledgement that it is a tool to make tomorrow easier.
This generation now sitting at twenty-something may not yet have the veneer of glamour that only passing time can lay. We may not find our own Hemingway to write of the woes of our time on our behalf. We may fail, like Gatsby did, to reach our own green light. But I sincerely hope we’ll be more truthful in our endeavors, that we will stop passing on this myth of urgency: that we need to rush college, to then rush our career, to rush our midlife crises, only to reach old-age just as old. I truly hope we will be selfish by seeking what we love, that we will find meaning behind our work and let it be the defining measure to what we do.