Please answer me this: Why do we work 8–9 hours a day so that we can earn free time, while we endlessly waste that hard-earned free time?
Have you ever looked at it this way? It’s an absurd way of living. And yet, everyone with a traditional job lives that way.
I remember the moment I realized that vividly. It was about three years ago. At the time, I worked at an IT Research firm in London while working on my own business in the evenings and weekends.
I was sitting on the train to home after a day at the office. And I was reading On The Shortness Of Life by Seneca . That book is famous for causing a shift in thinking for a lot of people.
I’ve met (and read about) many people who say that Seneca had an impact on the way they live. I don’t know why, but the simplicity and directness of Seneca’s writing hit you hard.
So I was just sitting there on the train like the millions of other folks who commute daily in London. It sounds like I’m setting the scene of a cheesy drama movie about an alcoholic who decides to better their life.
Believe me, my situation wasn’t that dramatic. It was just an ordinary day. A day that you forget you ever had because it’s similar to the day before… And the day before that. Do you know that feeling? Sometimes life feels like an endless deja vu.
But this specific section from On The Shortness Of Life made me think:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot 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.”
I thought about how I invested my time: About two and a half hours on the train each day, working a job I wasn’t passionate about and spending my free time drinking in the pub with co-workers, watching TV shows or gossiping at work.
We all work hard to earn two things: Money and free time that we can spend on leisure activities. Sounds pretty normal, right? But shitty part is that we end up wasting that time on bullshit activities. Seneca continues to talk about time:
“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.”
At some point, you have to stop and say, “No more.”
- No more working to live.
- No more wasting the free time you earn.
Only when you say no, you can start using your time. Because like Seneca says, life is really long. Let’s say you’re currently 35 years old. And let’s assume you stay healthy until you’re 70 years old.
That’s another 35 years of time you can spend on anything you like! Well, not anything. You probably won’t go skydiving at 67 years old. Or maybe you would. Why not?! It’s your life.
Anyway, if you keep wasting your time for 35 years, it’s no good.
We work hard to earn free time — but we can’t do anything with it because we’re too tired.
That’s how I felt. When you have a life that only drains energy, there’s not much left in your tank during the evenings and weekends.
That’s the one thing you want to avoid at all cost. It is simply not worth it to give all your energy to earn money and time if you can’t use it.
“But I need my job. I can’t just quit!”
That’s true. You’ve got to stay practical. But please, don’t tell me that it’s not possible to live a life that gives you energy. Also, don’t tell that to yourself. Without believing in something, you will never achieve it. Just keep both feet on the ground.
When I finally quit my job, I moved back to my hometown, started living cheaply, and focused on growing my business and later on, my blog. I didn’t go out, spend money, and didn’t engage in any activity that only gives pleasure.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to give up the fun things.”
Now we’re getting somewhere! You want the good life, but you don’t want to sacrifice anything for it.
I don’t have to tell you that’s impossible. You already know it. You know that you can’t party all the time and at the same time learn new skills. That’s not how real life works.
To achieve anything that’s worth it in life, you need two things:
- Focus — What are you trying to get out of life? What’s on your bucket list? And why?
- Perseverance — Now that you’re focused on what you want to do, don’t stop until you’ve made it happen. And once you’ve made it happen, make something else happen.
Sure, you might need other things too — it depends on what you want to do. But Focus and Perseverance are the two essential things everyone needs.
No one in the history of mankind did anything noteworthy without those two things.
Realize that you have one life. I don’t mean that in an idiotic YOLO way. That’s only an excuse to chase pleasure. No, find something that’s worth it. And then learn to love it.
Remember how Seneca said that “Life is long if you know how to use it”? Well, when you do things that are worth it, you’re using time — not wasting it.
So, what activities are worth it to you?
Darius Foroux writes about productivity, habits, decision making, and personal finance. His ideas and work have been featured in TIME, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Observer, and many more publications. Join his free weekly newsletter.