I was standing at the back of my garden recently, drinking my morning coffee and surveying the large field that lies beyond my garden fence. It’s peaceful out there, with only the sounds of busy insects and chirping birds to keep you company.
Growing on the field was the most magnificent assortment of wild flowers. Absolutely stunned that I hadn’t noticed them before, I made my way out onto the field to pick some. For an hour I simply wondered around, picking flowers, admiring them for their bright colours and observing little insects, bees and butterflies roaming about. I ended up with the most beautiful wild flower bouquet, which is now in a vase beside me, as I write this.
That morning was the first where I truly stopped and payed attention in the midst of a busy schedule. It was one of those rare moments where I wasn’t thinking about all of the things I should be doing – working on my Bachelor’s thesis and other university projects, sending out job applications or tackling the never ending To-Do list hanging on my bedroom wall – I was simply picking flowers. Somehow, with society being transfixed on maximizing time and productivity, it sounds almost absurdly comical saying that out loud. I was simply picking flowers; When did this become something others perceive as ‘extraordinary’ or almost ‘weird’ or ‘unusual’?
Our pace of life is increasing by the second
For that one hour, I was blissfully at ease. Nowadays, we tend to live so fast that we hardly ever stop to appreciate the little things anymore. Our pace of life feels like someone pressed the fast forward button on a remote control and couldn’t figure out how to switch back to normal speed again. We are all running a race against time, stuck in a frenzied lifestyle where even a minute of time you didn’t spend actively pursuing some kind of goal is perceived as “wasted”.
Alan Lightman writes about this in In Praise Of Wasting Time; the urgency embedded into society to make every moment count, where not a minute is to be wasted. It has taken over our lives. “The precious twenty-four hours of each day are carved up, dissected, and reduced to ten-minute units of efficiency”, as Lightman puts it.
We are all pressured – programmed even – by society to worry about the future from an extremely young age. So we set goals for ourselves, adhere to societal deadlines, draw up five-year-plans and do everything we can to be productive. All we do is constantly look into the future, planning, working, worrying and working towards that future some more.
Even my university curriculum was so crammed over these past years that I often didn’t even have the time to appreciate and reflect upon the knowledge that was being given to me. Education is such a gift, something a lot of us definitely take for granted (I definitely have, in the past). In the hustle and bustle of “I need to hand this paper in tomorrow” and “I have three exams next week”, it’s hard press pause and reflect on the gift that is being given to you, the knowledge you have gained. Engaging with the material on a deeper level, let alone completely unwinding at the end of the day without that little voice in the back of your mind – listing all of the things you should be working on – has become a rarity. Instead, we hop from one list item to another; a subject done and immediately onto the next.
Why “wasting” time is healthy
American author Henry David Thoreau already criticized society’s fast-paced lifestyle in the 19th century. Feeling restless after working in his family’s graphite business, Thoreau decided he needed a change of pace. He moved to Walden Pond, Massachusetts from 1845-47. He lived quite modestly in a secluded little hut in the woods that he had built himself. During his two-year stay, he wished to “live deliberately” and “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”. He had a lot of time to reflect; he read a lot, mediated, observed flora and fauna and documented his time in his journal. Out of that time came his most well-known work: Walden. A timeless piece in literature that has only grown in relevance since its publication in 1854 (!).
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”– HENRY DAVID THOREAU –
It has since been proven by countless studies and psychologists that unstructured time, time in which we “play”, promotes divergent thinking and ultimately, creativity. No wonder children nowadays are increasingly loosing that limitless creativity and bright-eyed curiosity for the world. They are growing up in a world that rewards one thing only; productivity and its output. Anything else, like putting up your feet and enjoying life is considered unproductive.
The value in “wasted” time
For the most part, society perceives wasted time to solely pertain to experiences we deem as negative or useless; Wasted time is a failed relationship, it is procrastination, it is failure, it is the string of first dates that never amounted to anything more, it is the semester we spent studying a university course only to discover that it wasn’t for us. Wasted time is always defined as such in hindsight.
There is this tweet by J.Cole that my 17-year old self stuck into her diary: I don’t fear commitment, I fear wasting my time. At the time I had recently gotten out of a relationship and overall, I was feeling pretty low. For the longest time, I looked back at that relationship as time that I had somehow “wasted” or “lost” and could never get back. That mindset truly set the tone for the next relationships the came my way; I lost faith in relationships all together and engaged in casual hookups because I was terrified of “wasting” yet another year of my life with a relationship that would fail down the line.
Thinking back to the relationship now, I remember it fondly. Was it perfect? Of course not. But even in the midst of all of our issues, fights and heartbreak, I learnt so many valuable lessons. In fact, the entire relationship pushed me to grow enormously as a person. Both the positives and the negatives gave me so much self-development as a result. How could such growth ever be perceived as wasted? Every experience – good and bad – teaches us something valuable. We need to appreciate those moments for what they are and move on. If we could hit the delete key after every failed relationship or negative experience, we would keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Wasted time is precious time
I long for those days in my childhood where I would have an epic adventure in my backyard, the days where I would aimlessly wonder through fields, streets, gardens and barns, thinking up stories in my mind, hunting fairies in the woods, climbing trees and observing everything I saw with such wonder. As a child, I was present in the moment. I wasn’t worrying about anything but what was right in front of me. I think a lot can be taken from that carefree outlook little Fiona had on life. I could definitely learn a lot from her now.
Already, at 21, I feel such an intense sense of obligation to get things done, that it’s all I can think about sometimes. And so game nights with my family are only half-enjoyed, my absent-minded self worrying about all the things I will now have to catch up on because I took some time to play a game with my family. It is a reality that not only I but countless other people in our society are stuck in; That even our family time – something to be treasured and looked forward to – is now often overshadowed by the daunting list of things we should be doing instead. I refuse to accept that adulthood is merely one giant race against time – a race that is pointless, as we cannot win.
Let’s say it is true; That right before we die our life flashes before our eyes. What would you want to see? What are the moments you want to remember? Certainly not the time you spent stressed out of your mind, trying to do a trillion things at once. I hope to see wild flower fields stretched out in front of me, special memories made with my loved ones, time spent doing anything but trying to maximize my productivity.
We, as a society, have to start to see the value in “wasting” our time every now and again. In fact, we have to consciously allow ourselves the time we need to do so, set that time aside and prioritize it more. Because giving yourself a break from time to time should be a priority.