On shortness of time
“I don’t have time.”
“I want to read so many books but I don’t get any free time.”
“I want to write a book but I am so busy, I don’t know whether I will ever get time to write it.”
“Life is too short.”
“Life sucks and then you die.”
Chances are you have heard all of these excuses some stage and it is quite likely that you have yourself made them now and then.
Do you want to know where your time goes? Watch this short film based on a tale from David Eagleman’s book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.
Surprised to find out that you spend two months driving the street in front of your house, thirty years without opening your eyes, five months flipping magazines while sitting on a toilet… And then you wonder where the time has gone.
We are the only generation that is time-poor. Right?
Even 2000 years ago when there was no TV, no mobile phones, no social media, people were complaining about not having enough time. One Roman philosopher Seneca got so sick of hearing people complain about life being short that he lashed out with an essay On the Shortness of Life.
He first summarized their complaints:
The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live.
It was this that made the greatest of physicians exclaim that “life is short, art is long;” it was this that led Aristotle, while expostulating with Nature, to enter an indictment most unbecoming to a wise man—that, in point of age, she has shown such favour to animals that they drag out five or ten lifetimes, but that a much shorter limit is fixed for man, though he is born for so many and such great achievements.
Then he responds:
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Seneca was forthright. He didn’t sugarcoat, he didn’t use politeness, he told people bluntly that they don’t have enough time because they are wasting too much of it. But how did the people who had no TV, no mobile phones, no social media wasted time? Seneca listed that too in his essay in case people don’t realize:
… one man is possessed by an avarice that is insatiable, another by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless; one man is besotted with wine, another is paralyzed by sloth; one man is exhausted by an ambition that always hangs upon the decision of others, another, driven on by the greed of the trader, is led over all lands and all seas by the hope of gain; some are tormented by a passion for war and are always either bent upon inflicting danger upon others or concerned about their own; some there are who are worn out by voluntary servitude in a thankless attendance upon the great; many are kept busy either in the pursuit of other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own; many, following no fixed aim, shifting and inconstant and dissatisfied, are plunged by their fickleness into plans that are ever new; some have no fixed principle by which to direct their course, but Fate takes them unawares while they loll and yawn—so surely does it happen that I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.
You get the picture. People were wasting time then and people are wasting time now, not only at the personal level but at the working level too through Bullshit Jobs. Seneca’s essay On the Shortness of Life is a poignant reminder for introspection that never gets around to do. Seneca lashes out:
“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
He then compares our time spending spree with the only thing we understand, money.
“In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most extravagant.”
Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life is something you must spend your time on. Penguin’s pocket-size book and easy read. If you don’t have even that much of time see the five minutes video below and you will get the message.