I was talking to Holly yesterday, and something that happened freshman year of high school came up. She threw in the phrase ‘six years ago,’ and I was totally caught off guard. ‘Six years ago?’ I thought. ‘I can’t believe it was that long ago.’ Maybe it’s just me, but it sure seems like time is hard to keep track of. ‘Six years ago’ can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. I need to watch out for ‘ten years ago’…
I was just revisiting my old Life’s Shades of Grey blog posts in search of inspiration for a side project, and I stumbled on that passage. I need to watch out for ten years ago. I glanced at the post date. “Holy shit, it’s ten years ago!”
Man, talk about a shock to the system. Ten years ago. Freshman year of high school was ten years ago. Meeting my soccer coach for the first time and running sprints with him on a rare rainy Colorado morning (the weather turned out to be an apropos omen for my high school soccer career…) was ten years ago. Hearing Mrs. Wade shriek “My cherubs!!” for the first time was ten years ago. Crawling out of bed at 4:30am, awakened by U2’s Vertigo, to stumble into a cold gym for morning basketball practice was ten years ago (although ten years hasn’t washed away the mix of anxiety and despair that grips me when I hear Bono count out “Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce!”).
Whenever I encounter these “where did the time go” moments, my knee-jerk response is to panic: “Ohmigosh! There’s so much I want to do in my life! I need to stop wasting time and do more!”
To an extent, that’s good. I want to maintain a healthy fear of wasting my life. But one of life’s more amusing paradoxes is that, the more you pack into your todays, the faster they become yesterdays.
Shortly after moving to Chicago to be a full-time adult two years ago, I had something of an identity crisis. A lot of it was wrapped up in a fear that I was wasting my life. That I didn’t have a direction in life. That I wasn’t doing enough.
Predictably, my response was to do more, to work my ass off. It isn’t rare that I’ll hit 40 hours of work before the sun comes up on Thursday. Throw in seemingly non-stop actuarial exams, learning three new programming languages, maintaining a personal website, picking up photography, and trying to build a new social circle, and it’s not too surprising that the last couple years have absolutely flown by.
In some ways, this is a positive outcome. I look back on how much I’ve accomplished, not just in the last two years but in the last ten, and it feels good. There’s a bit of a missing piece, though…it’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but i think the best way for me to describe it is that I don’t want to be looking back on my life feeling good about what I’ve done — I want to be living my life feeling good about what I’m doing.
As Thich Nhat Hanh would say: “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
There are two ways to live life. The first is to live life in order to have lived it and the second is to live life in order to live life. The latter solves life’s time paradox. Time can’t sneak by you if you’re washing the dishes to wash the dishes.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think a part of me understood this concept when I picked up photography in the weeks before starting my career. Depending on how you use the camera, it can have two very different purposes. It can be a tool to take pictures — to document your life so you can look back on it feeling reassured of what you’d done. Or it can be a tool to photograph — to help you experience the moment under the guise of creating art.
As I close with an obligatory “I need to watch out for ‘twenty years ago’,” I’ll take a deep breath and feel assured that I have the tools to suck the marrow out of the next ten years.