Letters To Seneca – Letter 6

Dear Seneca,

“The whole of life is but a moment of time. It is our duty, therefore, to use it, not to misuse it.”

This is your quote, Seneca, there have been many inspirational people throughout life that have mentioned similar points. It all boils down to time being precious, so we should make the most of it.

I have a bone to pick with this mentality. Very rarely in these quotes or the surrounding context is there mention of “how” to not “misuse” that time? Different people envision “time spent well” in different ways.

I agree that in the end, the definition of a meaningful life comes down to the one living it, but I argue there should be more guidance. Let me explain…

Throughout the last decade of my life, I took to heart the importance of time, but from the perspective of productivity. For me, it came down to economizing my time, squeezing every ounce of productivity from each moment. This mentality propelled me throughout my career faster than most, but there was a tradeoff… One that I was unaware of.

I’m no longer able to identify how to spend my time in non-economized ways. Or at least it feels that way. A comparable analogy would be muscles. Over the years I’ve hyper-focused on my biceps (career/career adjacent activities), causing my leg muscles to atrophy (non-career activities).

This creates a feedback loop. Now whenever the spare time arises and I aspire to do non-career activities I struggle in identifying how to spend that time. Since I don’t know how to spend that time I end up defaulting to career-adjacent activities, which in my head is rationalized due to the possible future economic upside.

Now you might say, “It took years to get into this mentality and it’ll take years to bring you out, but the effort is worth it”. I would agree. The next step is “how” – how do I build mental muscles that are seemingly non-existent?

I have a few ideas.

  • Understanding: One gradual step that’s underway would be my understanding of the importance of a life that’s balanced, not hyper-focusing on any one activity (i.e. career). This process will contain reading philosophy, self-help, history, and psychology books. My hope is that the more I understand how others have lived their lives, the pros/cons for each, and the related psychology, this insight will shape my perspective and actions.
  • Planning: Instead of deciding at the moment how to spend my spare time, I should plan. If I know there’s going to be a free evening or weekend, then a few days prior I should plan out how that time will be spent. There’s a catch here, I need to know how to spend that time, which will come down to experimenting with different activities… And more importantly, allowing myself to experiment and be open to alternative ideas of how time can be spent.
  • Perspective: The most difficult step will be shifting my perspective. It’s important that I embrace the idea that there is value in spending your spare time on activities that you get joy from, such as spending time with friends, family, playing games, hiking, etc.

Speaking of time, it’s about time that I end this letter.