A week ago, I came up with a wonderful new idea to write a book about. I was so excited! Immediately I started brainstorming and working on an outline. Next I had to do some hard bargaining with myself as to whether I am willing to temporarily suspend the other project I am working hard on now, a project that means so much to me. But this new idea is time-sensitive and must be addressed now. As I started to buy into the new project more and more and got to the point of committing to write the book, it suddenly struck me: How am I every going to find the time to do this?
Sneaking in a few tired minutes of writing at the end of a full day of work and kids is not the way to take a deep dive into a topic, not to mention finding the artistic inspiration to make it all come out right (trust me, I’ve tried it many times!). I need several hours in a row of focused work for days and days on end. Hmmm. Those hours don’t seem to exist in my upcoming calendar of events. If I want to sleep at all, I simply don’t have the time.
This is when my escapist fantasies begin. These daydreams typically come in bunches over several days—usually a few different times per year–when I get really excited to take on a new project and then am hit with the reality of my schedule. Usually these fantasies take the form of me winning the lottery and never having a care about money again. That, of course, means I would never have to hold a job ever again. That, for me, would be absolute BLISS.
I always thought this extreme anti-job thing I had was that I simply didn’t like working. I mean, hey, who likes working, right? I just thought I had an extreme case of it. I have marveled about this many times in my journal, wondering how I got so spoiled. Lately, though, I have realized something about myself. I realized that, more than anything else, I just don’t like to work for someone else. I don’t like my work polluted by other people’s agendas, and I don’t like to be told what to do and when (and certainly not how). Simply put, I have never, EVER wanted to hold a job. That is, until the day I realized I just wanted to be my own boss.
I want to work—I’m dying to work—on my own projects on my terms. I want to choose the things I take on and how the work is performed. For those conditions, I am willing to work hard every day until my life ends. I don’t need retirement because I love what I choose to do.
So, it turns out I am not as lazy as I thought. Spoiled maybe, but not lazy. What a relief!
But that still doesn’t solve my problem. I work my current job because it brings in just enough money—combining with my wife’s income–to keep my household running and allows me to be here for my kids whenever they are here. It is a busy lifestyle, but our arrangement manages to just keep the bills paid and all of us happy and grateful for the time together.
But still pent-up and wishing for more.
More time and more money would be ideal, of course. That is where my usual fantasies of winning the lottery come in. But this week, as my soul was stirred up into a frenzy by this new book idea and my eagerness to dive into the writing of it, I realized something different about the tone of my fantasy hypotheticals.
The pleas suddenly became much less greedy, much more sensible. Instead of “If only I had 500 million dollars, I could really do what I want!” my visions have been more like, “If only I could keep my simple, paltry income but not have to put in the time to do the job and commute, I could do enough of what I want to keep me fulfilled.”
Maybe I thought that if my request wasn’t so gigantic, the wish-granters—there is a local branch of the Wizard of Oz in every town, right?—might somehow find a way for me. I am not asking to be rid of my usual financial balancing act and the tension that comes whenever I spend money. I will happily carry those burdens if only I am granted the TIME.
Yes, TIME is what I am really after. I just want those hours that I spend from the moment I leave for work to the moment I arrive back at home. If I could have those hours, along with my current income, I would not ask the wish-granters for any more wishes (I say now).
What would I do with the hours? WORK! My work. I would spend every one of them writing. In the short-term, I would write the book whose idea is burning in me right now. In the long-term, I have many other things I want to write, too, including more of these weekly letters to you. Believe me, I could keep myself occupied with the many ideas that inspire me to help make the world a better place.
I feel like the painter who has the perfect painting in mind and his paints and brushes ready to go, but he is waiting for his canvas to arrive. Waiting impatiently.
Every artist needs a patron. I started saying that when I was a young actor, having first realized how much energy it takes to create and perform one’s art consistently well. I experienced how that energy and inspiration can get muted in the drudgery of making a living doing something that is not your passion for most of the day simply to get a small window of time to pursue that passion. I am convinced that most of the world’s great art has gone unproduced due to the world’s artists lacking the requisite time and energy to create. Because I dare flatter myself by calling what I do a type of “Art,” I feel this pain. I ache for that time and energy. And thus my fantasies.
Those obligation-free hours are so alluring to my imagination. Of course, there are a million ways to use them. I know it would be wonderful to use the time to read all of the books I have on my list and take up all the hobbies I have ever aspired to. I can see myself easily passing the day between guitar practice, yoga, and some Hemingway in my hammock. It is a vision that warms my heart.
It wouldn’t last, though. What drives me is the writing. Trying to string together words that will make a difference in people’s lives. I can’t make it very long without returning to that.
So yeah, at the end of the day, if you let me keep my current income but allowed me to quit working, what would I do? I would work! (MY way.)
How about you? What would you do if you were guaranteed your income without the time commitment? Open up your journal and imagine this amazing opportunity. How would you use it? Maybe this essentially becomes a question of what you prioritize at this point in your life, not just what you like to do. Is there something that you highly value but that you have not had time to devote to with your current schedule? Is it something that you can see yourself making a habit of and keeping in your life long-term? Would you use the time to cultivate a hobby or rather something that would become a new career for you? How widely would you spread your wings? How much would you simply kick back and take life easier than you have been? Would you intentionally have no agenda at all for a while? How long do you think you could go without any job before you became either bored or stir crazy? Is this even a deal that you would take? Perhaps you would prefer to keep doing your current job, whether for social reasons or connections and opportunities to keep climbing the career ladder in your field and building a bigger income than you have now? Whatever your choice, I hope that the things you prioritize—the things you might fill your newfound window of time with—are things that will leave you feeling fulfilled. I would love to hear what you choose. Leave me a reply and let me know: How would you fill the time that is truly free?
P.S. If this letter had you re-thinking about what you really prioritize at this point in your life, pass it on. A little clarity could do us all some good!