This is a very simple statement chosen by a different colleague at work for me to write about. Simple is usually good and I wonder what on earth I can write about for 40 minutes on this subject. I guess we take for granted what we do every day. We wake up, hopefully, arise, put on clothes, eat, maybe travel in order to begin some form of activity, usually in order to make money. We finish our work and go home. We eat during our waking ours. We spend time with our loved ones or friends or roomates or alone. We amuse ourselves at home or while out. We may work on chores at home. The weekend is a repeat of what we do at home – A mixture of recreation, work, eating, breathing and of course sleeping. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Now it’s easy to forget that we are shaped first by society. In different cultures there may be a different pattern. A tribe in Papua New Guinea may recognise almost none of this. No commuting there. Maybe no watching TV,or using a computer etc etc. Our job will define the activity for money part and may also affect the routine substantially – what time we wake up, which part of the day is spend making money if any. We may do a three week stint on an oil rig without sleep and then have two weeks off. But the activity to attain money and/or food remains.
So let’s look at the variables. We all have to eat but what we eat differs unbelievably between countries, cultures and poverty levels. Much as we are all born the same – a bunch of preprogrammed DNA designed to grow, fuel itself with oxygen, food and water in order to survive, a brain which is becoming hardwired into certain patterns or grooves as we develop and a time limit – a certain death some day. That is nature. Then there is nurture which affects our hardwiring considerably. How you are touched, loved, fed and what beliefs you are exposed to. Our experiences shape us enormously as we form our beliefs and subsconsciously look for information to support those beliefs. It could be something as simple as ‘all lawyers are crooks’ or ‘all blondes are stupid’. The ego tends to cling to those beliefs and it is hard for another to convince us otherwise as our experience has confirmed these beliefs and most people will cling to being right. Of course there is no wrong or right and very few correct beliefs. They are just beliefs, which if we were continually open minded and saw the randomness of them, we would surely change daily.
However it is easier for the brain, bombarded with 4 billion bits of information per second, if I am reliably informed, which needs to find a way to categorise the information so that it can process it. According to ‘What the Bleep do we know?’, that mysterious part of the brain that we no do not use (don’t you love the concept? Of the unused part? It holds promise that one day we may be that much more talented, clever, perceptive to accomplish anything we could possibly want?) which seems to range from 90 to 93% of it, might be subconsciously taking in those 4 billion bits of information. Who knows, we could be seeing ghosts and spirits around us at all times or auras or words floating around or light rays in slow motion bouncing off in every direction? We could be sensing things we have to possible concept of now as they don’t yet exist in our knowledge.)
Anyway I digress. I have completely forgotten where I was even going. I haven’t even touched on the original short answer to this quote. Ah yes, how you spend your time defines who you are.
I guess my point was that as humans we have those things we must all do. Maintain the body. Apart from the breathing and actual sleeping, everything else can be done differently. How culture and society defines that (which foods, beds etc) does not define us. We are simply programmed in a sea of culture to do it that way.
Nobody really wants to be defined but the next thing we can examine is what we are currently doing for work as this takes up a good portion of our time usually. I like to remember that if I work 8 hours a day and sleep 8 hours a day, I still have 8 hours a day left free. Instead of I am working today, I am free today and I will spend some of it doing a particular activity that bringsin money to fuel myself! Monday to friday is not filled with work – it’s only something I do as part of that day. I really try to make th most of the time I am not there and imagine that it is completely separate. When I go for my walk in the morning I imagine that I am rich or retired and I can do whatever else I want with my day but that this walk may be a highlight; I am doing it because I really want to. Enjoy it now. This moment need not be tainted of going to walk later in the day. I try to take myself off autopilot as much as I possibly can. It’s not a walk in order to be fit or thin that I sneak in before work. It’s simply a walk along the beautiful waterfront that uplifts me and assails me with smells of the flowers and the ocean and the smiles and Good mornings! from passers by. It is its own separate little part of my day.
Again I digress! How hard is it to keep on a simple topic? So, I get asked What do I do? by strangers. A common and reasonable question which I feel the need to answer honestly as with all things, so that this person can define who I am. I work in customer service. How I would interpret that answer or profession and how they might are totally different!! I see it as being someone who likes very much to help people, loves talking to strangers in order to give service but who is at the bottom of the ladder in terms of income and career, in an entry level position. I have judged myself and though I love my job for a variety of reasons, I am uncomfortable defining myself thus. So do I say instead ‘I am a writer?’ and put that definition at the mercy of their beliefs. They may think writers are anything! People who only record life’s events rather than doing them, people with imagination spending hours inbsolitary confinement. Poor, struggling creatives? Silly to think about this perhaps. Who cares what is in their minds? It can’t affect us unless we give it the power to. What’s the worst that could happen? That person doesn’t want to speak to you? They treat you in a different way because of their perception of your intelligence level? And in turn we ask them. “Oh I am the CEO of a major financial corporation, with 50,000 employees.” Do we respond in our heads thus Prat! Or “Ooh how impressive, they won’t be interested in what I have to say then! I feel all intimidated”?
I actually think this quote refers to how you spend your free time. What you do when you can do exactly what you want. How many people let themselves do exactly what they want anyway? I do, for one! Actually we maybe all do, even if we don’t realise it. We have engineered our lives thus far. We may think we want to go off, abandon our family and explore the world etc etc, but we are afraid and sometimes hugely limited by the perceived opinion of others and therefore have exactly no chance of ever doing what we think we really want. We don’t want to be labelled as selfish. We may feel guilty – another useless emotion – serves no one. We may be afraid or failure or success etc etc and this not doing what we want and having a good excuse for it keeps us safe.
I like this question by Barbara Sher – What did you do when you were too young to be useful? In some cultures you are never too young to be useful of course but how about for you? I played endlessly with my baby doll. I wrote poems and fantastical stories about dolls and magic and lovely things and other worlds. I drew pictures to accommodate my writing and made the things I wanted but could not afford, out of anything I could find. I looked in the mirror wanting to be pretty and have waist length hair. I did the splits an back bends in my bedroom wanting to be Nadio Comaneci. I painted. I played hospitals with my dolls and teddies under the piano with shoe boxes. I gathered shoes from around the house and played shoe shops, enjoying finding the shoe that fit exactly. There are probably a million more activities, as we are programmed to learn by copying, that do not remain in my memory – well not at the surface anyway – some of those only came back to me on thinking about this question – it maybe used up some tiny fraction of my missing 93% having to think back that deeply!
And how do I spend my free time now? Obviously I have taken up writing again and for now have found a way to make myself do it every day. Low risk, no one may ever read these, one creative blast a day or letting out my ‘stored information’. Actually there is another great Oprah Winfrey belief that comes to mind. Everyone wants to be heard. So I am hearing myself here by letting my mind wander and typing it out.
I am a scattered person who gets obsessed regularly by a myriad of things – losing weight, getting my house ready for the house swap, learning a new language, playing the piano, working on a piainting, dancing. I can happily spend 12 hours on one thing. Which is why I feel overwhelmed by all my unfinished projects. Like this writing I go into detail and hyperfocus with whatever it is I am obsessed about at the time and I know my day will be just gone. 8 hours of gardening even (pulling weeds, if you can call that gardening). So I guess that is another way of deifining ourselves. How much time we spend at that activity. How many activities we have undertaken in our lives – I have hundreds of courses, trips, certificates etc. So I have spent my time doing stuff, achieving stuff nearly my whole life. This statement is not a static one. How can we really define ourselves when we are so unique and a myriad of different experiences and abilities? People now change careers regularly. Are we defining ourselves at one point in time – Ah yes I am a marine biologist with 35 years experience in this field and in my spare time I am a drummer in a rock band – don’t we instantly ‘judge’ and build a picture of who this person is? (If they exist). Why define at all? Where did this word come from? It is similar to definite, finite, fine etc. People are not definite. Everything is in a state of change. Fine is just a a coincidence surely. Finite – nothing is finite. By the law of physics all energy cannot be destroyed. It simply changes. The energy stored within food becomes heat and water on our breath, which are lost to the atmosphere which keeps the earth warm and temperate in order to grow more food. That’s a weird example off the top of my head. Some of that food energy may go into sound or action or building etc etc. Who we are is not finite – our energy is not finite anyway.
The point is that I don’t think I like being defined. I am what I am and hopefully I have some inkling of that. Finding a definition for people is only a way to make sense of all the information we are bombarded with. A quick summary in order to shape how we interact with this person.
But let me ask you this – How are you currently spending your time? What have you spent your time doing in the past? With what speed and intensity? With what results? What can you possibly conceive of what you will be doing in the future? How will you define yourself then? Will it be a definition you are proud of, excited by and captures the essence of who you are, nature and nurture? Will you go to your death bed knowing who you are?
As I retyped this statement I realised I had not taken it apart. How is the manner you have chosen (the fast, slow, intensive, carefully, perfectionistically etc), you means anyone and everyone, spend your time, like it is a commodity to be spent. Current popular thinking says that time is linear however I believe physicists believe that all of time happens at once. Defines I now realise, involves coming to a finite belief, limiting the unlimitable. Who is a loose word, meaning so many things, you are – are is another word that encompasses so much. Bu that’s another story!