Rusty Holzer Highlights Seneca’s lessons about trying to manage time while we live our lives
Many people dream about all they could experience and accomplish if they just had more time. Our modern lives are busy and we all feel pulled in many directions. Between work, family, appointments, and errands, it often feels like there is no time left in the day for anything else. But, according to the Stoic philosopher and playwright, Seneca, the issue is not a lack of time but rather a flaw in how we choose to spend our time.
I am thankful to my cousin, a philosopher, for having introduced me to Seneca’s classic essay “On the Shortness of Life.” Seneca highlights the very topic we still struggle with today: time management. He presents his steadfast opinion that people tend to forget or avoid thinking about the shortness of life. Because of this, we don’t ensure we are spending our precious time in the most meaningful of ways. This perpetuates the feeling of not having enough time.
Seneca urges his readers to focus on finite aspect of life, living each day as if it may be your last. He writes: “You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
In addition to a conscious internalization about the fragility of life, Seneca explains that we must also recognize that our life is the biggest gift we will ever receive. As he continues to explain, “Our life is the most important gift we have. We often seem to take it for granted merely because we forget our time in this world is finite. If we were to conduct our days with the notion that each moment is truly precious and not guaranteed, we would make much more productive use of that time.” If only we would manage our days with this understanding, Seneca asserts, we would accomplish much more.
As we invest our energies in these points, Seneca also warns of the importance to remain in focus. It is not enough to decide to live your day to its fullest. Time passes by quickly. Distractions are constant and quick to arise, and must be fought off. In Seneca’s words, “Even though you seize the day, it still will flee; therefore, you must vie with time’s swiftness in the speed of using it, and, as from a torrent that rushes by and will not always flow, you must drink quickly.”
While it is imperative to remember life can end at any moment, Seneca stresses that life itself is long enough. The reason we so often feel there is not enough time is that we don’t know how to dedicate that time to what it’s important. Seneca writes, “…We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
Of course, these are messages which we have heard before. Seneca’s essay serves as a reminder of the gift of life as well as its vulnerability. The challenge is to constantly keep these facts in mind as we plan our goals and routines. And, in doing so, we must remain strong and turn down temptations which can potentially veer us off track from how we truly want to spend the dear time we’ve been given in our lifetime.
From the desk of Rusty Holzer