This was something I noticed awhile ago when I first starting working full time at my construction job. I would wake up at 6:00 a.m, get out of bed at 6:30, make breakfast, get dressed and leave by 7:00. I would arrive at 7:30 and the day would begin. Haul materials, screw in boards, put up drywall, sweep the floor. Stop for lunch at 12:00, start back up at 12:30, and then it all starts again. Clean the windows, pick up plywood, fix some holes, put down some track. Before you knew it 4:30 p.m had rolled around and the day was done. Get in my car, get home by 5:00 and make dinner. Eat, take a shower, and go workout by 6:15. Lift weights, sweat, get some water from the drinking fountain. Get home at 7:30. Take another shower, have a snack, get dressed and it was 8:00. Watch some YouTube video’s, be in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10:00. Weeks would go by this way, this routine of work and home activities eating away chunks of my twenty-four hour day until every second seemed to be taken towards some activity. Routine made my life slip by in alarming chunks.
A few times I would stick my head up and look at how much time had passed. I would be on my porch loosening my boots and drinking some coffee when my attention would be drawn to the clouds ahead or the trees around my yard. A second would pass, then another, and the same thought would pop in my head. “What has happened to me in this past month? Where did those four weeks go?”.
Time works differently as we get older. When we are young everything is new, the world seems to run on a magic that we cannot hope to understand and we are constantly getting put in interesting situations where we cannot predict the outcomes. The years seem impossibly long and a summer feels like it truly will last forever. This feeling slowly fades as we get older and older, but the decline is steady until…until it’s not. One day you wake up and have a full time job, people who depend on you, things that need your attention and daily activities that need to be completed no matter what. Your days have been planned out, then your weeks, and eventually your years, until time no longer feels so linear. One moment you’re thinking back to a fight you and a friend had a week ago, next you’re twenty years in the past thinking about your first kiss. Was that really that long ago? Has this much time already gone by? What happened in all those years? You can do this even if you have only lived a handful of years. Think back through your life, to the summers that have passed and the seasons that have gone by. What have you done in all that time? What have you built, what knowledge have you accumulated, what goals have you achieved? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished a good amount for the age you are? Did you see yourself doing more?
Having a set six hour to twelve hour requirement in your life is the true culprit to this time warp. Spending large amounts of energy doing an activity does not just take the energy out of you, it changes who you are as a person and how you act in strange and sometimes alarming ways. When you make that switch from a person who’s days are malleable and not always planned to a rigid, set ten hour requirement five days a week, it puts your brain into different modes where you actions and responses are scripted and less thought out. This doesn’t happen at first, when you start a job everything is new, you are learning how everything works and are overwhelmed mentally and physically with new experiences. Your first couple of days will feel like weeks. This doesn’t last very long. Our brains form habits, learn what to expect from daily situations we find ourselves in and try to minimize stress and effort over the long periods of work, making us as comfortable as we can be during the working day with minimal amounts of critical thinking, unless the pattern is broken in some way. The brain does its job well, and this thinking process has a role to play in our lives. The problem? Autopilot does not breed new ideas nor can it address problems that on the surface are unknown to us.
I would come home after a long day of working and I would have no idea what had filled my mind for the entire day. None at all. Sure I could think back and remember some things, but most of it would be focusing on whatever menial task that I had been doing at the moment, nothing more. Sometimes I would be surprised and embarrassed to realize I had just been replaying the same lines of a song over and over in my head for hours. While working we are not always like this of course, but a majority of traditional 9-5 jobs, whether they be blue collar or executive jobs are like this. Our habits start to become so ingrained into our personalities and lives that major problems and emotional wounds can roam undetected for years in our lives, eroding us into people we never could have imagined becoming.
So whats the solution to this Time Machine we all seem to step into at some point in our lives? Well, I don’t have an answer, but i do have a few suggestions that can help.
- Have a job you are passionate about. Something you can immerse yourself in, something you love, something that you welcome taking up large parts of your day, a job where you sometimes forget to eat, find yourself working past the eight hour mark because you’re on to an idea or thought that you can’t put down and needs to be explored until it is written down for you to pick right back up tomorrow. Of course you don’t always have to feel like this about your job. No painter, writer, movie star or businessman always wants to be working. A job is a job, and will always feel like one no matter what you do. What you should have in a job is the potential for this spark of passion to occur. Imagine this:
- An author working on his story, and suddenly all the pieces fit together and he can’t help but write well into the night as his new idea pours out onto the page, his fingers unable to keep up with the light speed of his thoughts.
- A businessman in his office going over papers and talking with colleagues, trying to figure out a solution to the new problem that has risen, or working on a plan on how to expand into new markets.
- An ice skater who has been working on a double axle through the day and will not stop for the night until she gets it.
In whatever line of work you find yourself drawn to, having this passion to learn and shape the job you are doing to be the best it possibly can be will make life not only slow down but also make the passing moments feel worthwhile and validated.
- Make time to reflect. You’ve probably already heard this from multiple different sources, but it’s true. When our lives become stretched so thin, when you are having to account for so many different things, you are going to miss some of the problems in your life. When in college or high school, you have the time to just sit around and mull over your thoughts in your room away from your family and friends. But once you make that transition into the adulthood where suddenly you have the kids, the taxes, the payments, the coworkers, the meetings, the dishes, the laundry, and the small problems that seemingly arise out of nowhere, you will be swept into a whirlwind of emotions and distractions that will hide the wounds on your body and in your mind. Taking those thirty minutes before bed or right after you get home to just sit and think with nothing else will let you search through your day, having time to think about what has happened and what your feeling are towards your actions and future. This will slow things down, will put the brakes on time, letting you to observe the individual seconds that are passing to assure yourself you are okay with how you are spending the time that you will never get back.
- Force new experiences. Travel, go on hikes, jump out of airplanes, talk to new people, eat new foods, try different cultures. When you are put into new situations, your world slows down. The seconds stretch on, there is an abundance of information to process and you don’t know what to expect next. If you’re in China for a week trying to get by without knowing a single word of Chinese and one week will feel like three months. New experiences will not only make your life feel fuller, but will show you more of what the world truly is, letting you see into all of the nooks and crannies you would otherwise miss if you hadn’t forced yourself to be on the lookout for them.
So don’t let your job steal away the years. Try and escape that time machine, walk as slowly as possible through the days and hopefully we can all hold on a little tighter to time.