My life has simultaneously narrowed and widened

People ask me, with some regularity, how I “do it all.”  Of course, I don’t.  There is plenty I don’t do.  And I have been thinking about that a lot lately, of the immensely different ways we each populate our hours and what they say about what we value.

Every hour of our life is a choice, a trade-off between competing priorities and desires.  We are all given the same number of hours in a day.  What do you prioritize?  What do you care about?  Where are you spending your time?

In the last several years my own life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.  It has narrowed because I have substantially cut down on external (non-job and non-family) commitments.   I say no much more often than I say yes.  And even beyond commitments about my physical presence, I’ve withdrawn in a real way: for example, I spend much less time on the phone catching up with friends.

But even in this narrowing my life has startled me with an unforseen richness.  It’s like I stepped into a dense forest but then I looked up to see an enormous expanse of the sky.  Somehow, in my turning inward, I have learned to see the glittering expanse of my own life.  Maybe it is not having the other distractions.  Maybe it is that is training my gaze I have opened my heart.  I am not sure.

I spend my time with my family, I spend my time writing, I spend my time reading, I spend my time with a small number of people I entirely trust and wholly love.  I run at 5:30 in the morning because that’s the only time when the trade-off isn’t too steep for me.  It is very rare for me to have dinner, drinks, or lunch with a friend one-on-one.  The same is true for Matt and me with other couples.  On the other hand there are many evenings where I sit and read to the kids while they are in the tub, when I get into bed at 8:15pm with a book, and there are a great many days full of work.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard

Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we “don’t have time.”  The truer response would be “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.”  This may be harsh, but I think it’s also true.  Let’s take ownership of our choices rather than bemoaning their results.  Do you want time to meditate?  Time to go to yoga?  Time to spend reading with your children?  Well, something else has to go.  Unfortunately time, at least in the framework of a day or a week, is a zero sum game.  The ultimate one, perhaps.

Think long and hard about how you spend your precious hours, the only currency in this life that I personally think is actually worth anything.  A lot of these decisions are made instinctively, without deliberate thought or analysis.  But that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked.  We protect fiercely time for those things and people and events we truly value.  And those things, people, events we never seem to have time for?  Well, that tell us something important too.

I believe that if you look carefully at the map of your hours over a week or a month, you will see a reflection of what it is in this life you prize most highly.  Do you like what you see?


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27 Comments

  1. Sheona
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Lindsey, for this post really sounded a bell in me as I work to redraw my ‘map’. Those words from Annie Dillard are very focusing too.
    My appreciation continues…

  2. Posted November 29, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Wonderful wisdom here~thank you. It is interesting to me how people do ask the question about doing what we choose to do with our days. Some sincerely want to sculpt their own days differently or better, but others seem to represent the challenge of focusing and staying focused on what we want to honor. I always adore that Annie Dillard quote, but the ideas in which you encompassed it are life giving.

  3. Posted November 29, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I love this post. I happen to be one of those people who constantly bemoan the fact that I don’t have enough time, even though I secretly know that I do. I am constantly struggling to figure out what matters most. I, too, believe that time is our most precious commodity. Maikael has an option at work to “buy time,” up to a week of vacation a year. I think it’s telling that he’s one of the only employees he knows who buys the max amount every year. How often in life do we get to actually BUY TIME? Time is always more precious than money — at least to me.

  4. Posted November 29, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I think often about how I spend my time — and I am the most frustrated when I realize that most of my time is not of my choosing. My map feels covered with obligation — mostly work — with a few tall peaks of choice time. It is there where I am most selective. I too dont chat on the phone. I also dont watch TV (except Jon Stewart before crashing at night). But I long for more choices on my map — and less obligation. Hmmmm – how to do that? Thanks for the great meditation today.

  5. Posted November 29, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    YES. To everything about this post. Just so, so true.

  6. Hilary Levey Friedman
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Yes! I have found pregnancy to be a great “excuse” and a real impetus for me to say, “No, I can’t do that,” instead of always accommodating and making my time available to others.

  7. Trish
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    thank you for this sage reminder…you’ve given me a lot of reflect upon….

  8. Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    LOVE this post. It is so easy for the gap to widen between our values/priorities and our actions. I believe most of the time we do it unconsciously, grabbing at what’s right in front of us, what’s easiest, or what seems the most urgent. But we all have time for the things we NEED to do. The trick is figuring out what makes the cut.

  9. Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    So, so great. I am glad, for so many reasons, that we have reconnected. One of the most tangible for me is that I have brought back my quote book. Somehow over the years, it had disappeared. I quickly wrote down the Annie Dillard quote but then I found myself writing down your quote. For it is the heart of this issue and one with which I am currently struggling although seeing some small victory- “Instead of ‘I don’t have the time’, the truer response would be ‘I don’t care enough to really protect the time.'” This is it.

  10. Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This is such a gem of truth. We all have the same amount of time, and we all make time for what’s important. I think it’s when we’re dedicating precious time to what’s NOT important to us that we feel harried and stressed and frustrated. As I’ve gotten busier, and my time is more threatened, I’ve gotten better at saying no!

  11. Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about that Annie Dillard quote a lot lately. Thanks for these words – they resonate deeply.

  12. Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I adore this post, Lindsey. It is so resonant with much of what I feel about my own time and the choices people make about their time. My favorite lines: “Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we ‘don’t have time.’ The truer response would be ‘I don’t care enough to really protect the time.'” Thank you for your honesty. xoxo

  13. Laurie
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Hi, Lindsey, Shauna Niequist’s essay, “Things I Don’t Do” (in her collection “Bittersweet”), is a searching meditation on this conundrum of deciding what we’re willing to give up to have the life we want.

  14. Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting post. Of course, I like the theme, – its my theme of the year. And I LOVE your title, that puts it into perspective to me. I wish I knew you better, away from the page. (I always wish this : ) )
    because, from the little I know of you through your writing, the second half of your post takes on a different voice than I am accustomed to hearing from you. After the quote, you turned outward, telling others to act. Rarely do I sense this from you. You generously share your life, which is an inspiration to many. It sounds a little like frustration with the pace of life that our culture has placed on us. I don’t know if I agree with “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.” Being in the midst of this (MAY I SAY TECTONIC ?) shift in my life, I might believe, “I don’t know how to protect the time yet, but I’m trying to learn.” Lindsey, your actions and words, have led the way for some of us to make these changes. Thank you.

  15. Posted November 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this post really speaks to me. In the last few months I have started to make some of these same re-prioritizations and I’ve gotten better about saying “no” to things and “I don’t care” to other people’s expectations of what I should be doing. It’s a process, and one that takes considerable mindfulness, to be able to protect time for the things we really care about. (I’m not surprised to see that the things that I’m choosing to prioritize are the same things you are.) Thank you for this reminder and this rallying cry. xo

  16. admin
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Something I should point out, which as I reread this seems an egregious exclusion, is that I work at a ‘day job’ most of every day. I work more than part-time though less than full-time. So all of my comments here are about the time around the edges of that.

  17. Posted November 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I hate the trade offs between have tos and want tos (homework, going to the park). My uncle suggested a chart – with two boxes on top (have to/ don’t have to) and two down the side (want to/ don’t want to). It isn’t surprising that we make time for the things we want to do and need to do, or that we never do the things we neither like nor need to do. But those middle grounds – the have tos (fold laundry), the want tos (visit my dear friend half across the country) – they are where life gets tricky.
    I think often we are unmindful about how our hours pass. And then we let the important take place of the essential.
    And sometimes, I do think there are simply not enough hours in the day. And even the things that matter get swept aside, hoping for more time tomorrow.

  18. Posted November 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    As usual you seem to hit with something I have been musing about myself. Being a newlywed, running my own business, caring for aging parents…all are where I want to put my time and priorities now. That is very different from a even a year ago when my life was basically my business and my friends (and the occasional family time). The change has been startling and although I feel solid and grounded in it–it is still a transition, still makes me pause and question. But then if I didn’t pause and question I wouldn’t be me. As always thanks!!

  19. Posted November 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    As I read this post I found myself nodding, because over the last year I’ve become better at doing this. I’ve learned that stretching myself to thin, and committing to things that I really don’t want to do is a potential trigger for many anxieties. And so, I’m becoming more careful about the commitments I make, recognizing that sometimes we all have to do things we may prefer not to. Like you, most nights I’m curled in bed with a book by 8:00, if not sooner. However, I have to admit, as much as I firmly agree that it is all about priorities, it is not always as easy as simply shifting them, sometimes it’s about accepting that there are things that just have to be done, and realizing that others will just have to wait. I, for example, must work at a full-time job, largely for financial reasons. So because I have to work, I choose to work in a career that takes a great deal of focus, and that requires long commutes. Of course I’d rather spend that time differently, but unfortunately it isn’t always possible. Goodness! I have much to say on this topic, and I hope you realize I’m not meaning to be critical at all, only to contribute to the discussion as a whole.

    admin Reply:

    I absolutely agree and that’s why I added my own comment – work is a big part of my time, as well, for many reasons, not least of which are financial. So I hear you on certain things just needing to be done.

  20. Posted November 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    This is the best come to jesus about time I have ever read. Thank you! One good thing about moving a lot is that I don’t have many friends locally who take up my time. Which can totally suck of course but it’s also allowed me to be selfish.

    However, I STILL waste time and this winter I am trying to really hone in on what I love. Honestly, this came at the BEST time. Thank you!!

    And I love this: We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked.

  21. Posted November 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    This was so eloquently spoken.

  22. Posted November 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, you are so wise. Really and truly. Time with you and your beautiful writing is time very well spent. You always make me stop, listen and think. Thank you always.

  23. Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Love this, and you.

    And yes, more and more, I like what I see.

    What a gift. Thank you.

    XOXO

  24. Posted November 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    “I’m not saying no, I’m just saying yes to something else.” ;)

  25. Ana
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Great post, I had to come back & re-read it! While I had already come to the realization that “not having time” is really just an excuse for not prioritizing something, I haven’t yet figured out how to shift my life so that my hours (and the free hours after full-time work are limited!) are filled with what I find important & uplifting.I think you are absolutely right: I need to sit down and figure out what the priorities are and figure out a way to make them happen. Just the act of doing this–of deciding what to sacrifice–will hopefully lead to more clarity in what I really want out of life. Thanks for the call to action, what a great exercise with which to end the year/start the new one!

  26. Posted June 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I love this post! I think about this time/commitment issue all the time, especially since I read a NYT story about Charlotte Rogan, who recently published the Lifeboat and she said somthing to the effect of “I passed up a lot of luncheon invitations to get this book written.” Exactly.

  27. Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    You are right on, Lindsey. I have (not so eloquently) expressed the same. Before 2 years ago, I was an outgoing social butterfly with a 3 kids and a PACKED calendar. One day, I started painting and everything else fell away. Solitude has been a gift that has presented opportunities (to hear) and follow my heart. It was been immensely rewarding and led me to pursue a more purpose-driven life.

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