Time Well Spent: How Our Life’s Finiteness Determines its Value

I’m writing this at the start of the new year, perhaps when time feels its most abundant. 365 days lay stretched out before us, oozing with potential. On the eve of this new beginning, we vow to become better versions of ourselves, better than last year at least. Tradition encourages us to adopt resolutions and we eagerly obey. We fantasize about how we’ll revolutionize our fitness routines, save the environment, and spend less time staring at our screens and more time noticing each other.


Whether or not we stick to our promises will be determined early on. The stakes are high, but if we fail, there’s always next year (or the one after that.)


We take such a casual attitude toward time and how we spend it, yet often complain that there’s not enough of it. When we’re stuck in a waiting room for more than 10 minutes, we sit in silent frustration, ruminating on all the ways our afternoon could be better spent. When we’re with a loved one, we struggle to comprehend how the minutes tick by so quickly without our noticing, and secretly wish we had more of them.


As we get older, our days seamlessly flow together, and weeks can pass in the span of what feels like only a few days. I’m told this only becomes more so the closer we get to our golden years.


Any way you look at it, our relationship with time is strained at best, constantly fluctuating as unpredictably as the events of our days. What it would take to feel as though we had “enough” time? Less work and more play? Extended lifespans? A longer calendar year?


We like to think that we have control over how time passes and how much of it we have. To a small degree, we do. We can make lifestyle changes that are associated with a longer lifespan and establish routines that give us a sense of authority over its flow.


But to a much larger degree, we are not able to manipulate our life’s minutes, let alone how many of them we’ll get. It’s frightening to understand our time as finite, but it also presents us with a unique gift: to embrace it for its brevity, and not squander away its potential.


When we learn to recognize our time on earth as limited, it becomes much more valuable. We don’t have an eternity to make an impact, to achieve our goals, or to pursue our passions. If we’re waiting for the stars to align, we’ll be waiting a long time.


It’s not the number of days we’re given, but how we spend them that determines their worth. Our 5-year plans are only as good as what we do during the years that precipitate their arrival. What’s the use in mapping out our ideal futures if we fail to glean satisfaction from our imperfect presents?


Immerse yourself in the things that make you oblivious to the hours as they march by. Maybe it’s gardening, cooking, or reading. Maybe it’s writing a play, sewing, or woodwork. Maybe it’s solving complex math problems, hosting a dinner party, or hiking in the mountains.


Whatever it is, spend time doing more of it. Not next year, not when you retire, not when the children are grown. Now.


It’s easy to feel like time is our enemy, with its natural abruptness and relentless determination. But it can also assume the role of friend: when we get an extra day off, when we avoid a tragedy because we’re running late, when summer’s daylight hours stretch on late into the evening.


Friend one day, enemy the next, time is all we have. Limited and easily languished, each day belongs to us. How we spend one can influence the many we hope will follow. What will you do with your next?