Knowing What to Want

Time is going to pass no matter what we do.

If you don’t want to waste it, then first of all you need to work out what is  your definition of a non-time wasting activity. One person’s waste of time is another person’s calling in life.

In other words you need A Plan. A Life Plan. Stuff that you do that fits within that plan is “effective use of time”, and stuff not in the plan is “time wasting”.

Simple.

Or is it? It isn’t simple for me.

My problem is of course that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. (Funnily enough the time passes anyway). How do some people know what they like? How do they know what to want? If I choose one thing then I will miss out on other things. How do you choose?

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I was reminded of this problem while reading this post (How Do We Know What We Want: Milan Kundera on the Central Ambivalences of Life and Love) at Brain Pickings.

…even the rightest choice can present itself to us shrouded in uncertainty and doubt at the outset, its rightness only crystallized in the clarity of hindsight.

 

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
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There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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Start Where You Are.

A good starting point seems to be to start where you are. It is so tempting to want to solve world hunger. The place to start though is to frankly assess how you currently spend your time.

A useful exercise I found was to document a typical week. How do you generally spend each hour of the day? Do a week rather than a day, since your week days and weekends will vary.

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Where Do You Want to Be?

Once you have this information there are a few things you can do with it:

Identify what is mandatory (work and chores) versus what is optional (Visiting friends? Or is that mandatory?).

Looking at your day: What part of it brings you pleasure? What feels like a good achievement? What is “productive”?

Reverse engineer your goals from how you spend your time (e.g. I work for money so I can live, but also because I like to go out to dinner and clothes shop. Am I ok with goals of fine dining and being well dressed? Or is this wasting money to me?).

Imagine how would you change this schedule to make it a perfect week. Are you throwing the whole thing away? Or making minor tweaks? What is missing from the list? Why is it missing?

The difference between your actual week and your ideal week might help you to decide what your life plan is. I can imagine one person realising they are miserable, and making drastic changes. Others might recognise that their goal of exercising more just isn’t doable with their full schedule.

Looking at my week also makes me aware of the commitments I have made to my family. Being aware of, and naming these constraints helps take some of the stress out of it all. I actually don’t have that much choice. There actually isn’t that much to decide. I want to keep living in my house, so I need a job that pays the mortgage. There’s a lot of options ruled out right there.

So, yeah, I am going nowhere fast. I’m a middle class mum, and my days are spent on the same repetitive tread-mill of same old, same old. There’s only so much free time in my day.

But there is some free time. That is the good news.

I may not have days free but I have hours that I could be spending better. Just not sure yet what on.