“The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness,”
Seneca wrote in a letter to his friend Lucilius almost 2,000 years ago. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic
is a collection of short passages written from Seneca to Lucilius
full of interesting reflections on life. His quick quote about carelessness seems to be as fitting as can be for our times today.
We live in a time where great possibilities are open to most of us. On a given weekend we can volunteer our time for a meaningful cause, go snowboarding, go to the beach, visit family, or work on an art project, or try to finally get the garage cleaned. Often, however, we might find ourselves in a position where our time slips past us, and our weekends are lost to Netflix and squandered on meaningless activities. I often look forward to the promises of the weekend on Friday with excitement, but end up looking around my place on Sunday night reflecting on everything I planned to do but never managed to get to. We don’t need to pack every minute of our free time with interesting, fun, and engaging activities, but what I feel on some Sunday nights, is the pain of a loss due to carelessness.
Much more seriously, our world faces very extreme consequences from global warming as we continue to put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We face dangerous consequences from the bioaccumulation of plastics in fish and wildlife species that eat our garbage. Millions of people in the deserts of the United States rely on water sources that are becoming depleted, yet water waste from leaks and unwise water usage persist. Our world faces various ecological crises that result more or less from our own carelessness. Just as I feel terrible some Sunday nights about the way I wasted my time during the weekend, we will look back at where we are today and feel extreme regret for the carelessness with which we wasted resources and allowed our planet to degrade.
Solving my problem on Sunday nights is not impossible. It just requires that I be more considerate about my time. It requires that I think about what I am doing and why I am doing it to ask myself if there are other things I should be doing and if I am going to look back and be glad that I spent my time engaging with any given activity. With some planning going into the weekend, I can be successful in engaging with the world in a meaningful way on my days away from the office. The same is true for our climate crisis. If we ask ourselves what we are doing and how our actions contribute to the overall sustainability of our planet, we can start to make small changes to live better on our planet. We won’t individually make much of a difference, but collectively we will start to make changes and we can all contribute to a consciousness about the importance of using our resources wisely. That mindset will eventually translate into smart decisions globally to help us mitigate our impact on the way things are going and prevent us from a disgraceful loss of a habitable planet due to our own carelessness.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote a message to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, and in her book she hits on many topics including goal setting, putting others first, and time management. The following quote really dives into the idea of time management, “Forget balance, Think choices. You must order your priorities, and only do what you can do well.” I really align with this quote because I have recently begun thinking of time and time management in new ways. I grew up imagining the idea of balance and being able to do an equal amount of things that I enjoyed, found important, or helped me sustain myself. Recently however, I have come to see that balance is just a myth and that there are better ways to think about time management.
The first new way of looking at time management for me was imaging a tilt rather than a balance. In this way, we are always not quite balanced, but we are tilting one way or another. We lean towards things we are putting more time into as opposed to staying balanced with all of our time and activities nicely weighed out on a scale. When I first read this quote that was the idea I had in mind, but that idea is still a balance. What is worse is that the idea of tilting is just an unstable balance. We may be tilting one way or another, but then we are trying to add extra weight on a system that is already unstable. In my opinion it would be better to strive for a good balance rather than a good tilt.
The most recent idea of time management that I have been exposed to, and now that I return to this quote I see it as an idea that Dr. Schlesinger would agree with, came to me from Beyond the To Do List Podcast
. Sheranosher compared time management to packing a suitcase, and she did so by having everyone imagine a trip to Alaska. The best way to pack a suitcase she explains, is to lay out all of the things you want to take, and then to pack the most important things first. When you do this, you see everything that you have and make sure that you don’t leave behind anything crucial. First you tackle the most important items that you will need (your jacket, a pair of snow boots, gloves) and then you see where those extra items will fit (swim trunks & flip flops). If your most important items have taken up all of your space, then you simply leave out the swim trunks and move on. Her comparison to time management is brilliant. If you examine everything you need and want to do, then you have an easier time identifying what is important and what is not. You can take the items that you know you need to get done in your day, and pack those in your mental suitcase first, then you will see where (if at all) the extra things can fit.
Dr. Schlessinger in her quote was telling us to handle time the same way as Sheranosher, just without having to plan a trip to Alaska. She encourages us to examine our choices and be honest about which choices are priorities, and which choices are superfluous. In addition, she says to focus on those choices that we can execute fully and completely. If we can not do a choice well, then it does not make sense for it to be a priority. If we want to take that electric blanket, but do not know how to fold it into our suitcase in an efficient way, it may take up too much space and force out our more important gloves.
In a letter written to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, Joe Dallesandro writes, “When you’re young, you’re given a plate and you’re given all sorts of things to choose from, and whoever your guardian is should be trying to give you a balanced meal.”
As I have left college and entered the world of the 40 hour work week, I have begun to have major doubts about the idea of balance. A popular idea that I have come across in podcasts from the world of business, productivity, and entrepreneurs, is that there is no such thing as a work-life balance, but rather choices of what we want to focus on. We all have the same amount of time in a day, and how we spend that time will determine what our focus is, how well we meet goals, and what we do to achieve the things we want to achieve.
I think that the quote from Dallesandro is very interesting because it suggests that there can be a balance in interests, activities, hobbies, and meaningful work or family time, specifically when you are young and not in the world of a 40 hour workweek. I can definitely understand Dallesandro in this quote when I look back at my own life, but I also see a major conflict. Parents who are working 40 hours a week and who have no ability to maintain a magical balance, have to be the ones who shape and provide a balance for their children. Left to their own, children will zero in on a single focus and loose sight of balance, and in today’s world that may mean video games, Facebook, and other unproductive activities. I am not a parent and hopefully not anywhere close to being one, but I am very encouraged by the metaphor of providing a child with a balanced meal to help them grow in many directions as they move through school, possibly into college, and off to their own independent lives.