I must confess an unpopular opinion: to me, wasting time is a myth. Every second we spend doing something, no matter how relevant or important it seems, is formative in making us who we are now. To me, every second I spend doing anything is part of God’s plan in making me more like Jesus Christ. Time wasted is time not spent as planned, not explicitly devoted to our goals, but the beauty of life is that it doesn’t go as we plan most of the time, when we can give up control in instead of forcing it.
I can speak to my own personal experiences, that even all those weeks I wasted away in middle school addicted to video games and spent playing MMORPGs weren’t wasted. Yes, those were days I didn’t understand the value of moderation, but those were times where I learned how much the “massively multiplayer” and communal aspect of gaming mattered to me much more so than the games itself. It was where I recognized how much I needed connection and community in my life, and was a precursor to the real communities I have now that I cherish and contribute to all the more because of those times.
In addition, the time I spent indulging in my various addictions was time I couldn’t have learned the lessons I needed to learn any other way. As unpopular as it was to say, those addictions were the means by which I both hid and confronted and coped with more serious problems I had. The times I stayed up too late worrying about apprehensive things I had to do the next day, suffering yet another episode of insomnia, I had good reason to be apprehensive. I needed to stay awake and think about the upcoming cross country race or big exam I had the next day, or I needed to take the time for myself and distract myself from the big thing I had the next day. The search for productivity leaves us neglecting the spiritual and personal parts of our lives.
To me, there is no such thing as wasting time, especially time that isn’t productive. Time doing nothing is time I need to spend doing exactly that: nothing. Here’s a newsflash: unproductive time isn’t necessarily unproductive. I learned that I’m more at peace and more, counterintuitively, productive when I embrace the time in my life that’s not productive, the time I spend in prayer, in contemplation, in connection with others. In Mad Men, Lane Pryce, complains to Don Draper about the creative department’s poor spending habits, Don tells him that the company’s success is contingent on “letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.” Unproductivity, according to Draper, is essential for creativity, and I think he’s absolutely right to say so.
We currently live in a “hustle” culture where constant and relentless productivity are the norm, and according to Aatif Rashid of the Kenyon Review, the trend is in line with “the more general neoliberal turn our culture has made, in which everyone is now a capitalist and the world a great big marketplace.” Our reliance on productivity is unhealthy because we need unproductive time to come up with ideas and recover in the first place. Just like we need sleep, we need times to be unproductive, and those times aren’t times wasted, but rather time to charge up and prepare for the points we do tend to be productive.
Naturally, we want to be productive because we feel the need to move forward, all the time. But we can’t always be moving forward and just getting over things. Sometimes, we just need to feel our emotions rather than suppressing them. We are results-oriented people in a results-driven society like ours, and it’s natural to feel like our time is wasted when we prepare for an event that gets canceled, when we spend time in a store without buying anything of use, or invest in a relationship that fails and falls apart.
There’s the incredible value of contrast in our lives, and I reiterate the notion that we are who we are not despite everything that has happened, but because of everything that has happened in our lives. Our lives are an amalgamation of narratives and stories, and our personalities arise from those narratives. According to Julie Beck of The Atlantic, “the story of how you became who you are, and of who you’re on your way to becoming, the story itself becomes a part of who you are.” Our stories aren’t a Wikipedia list of facts and events of our lives, but narrative circuits that connect those events. “A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.” That means everything is a part of us, what we perceive the good, bad, and the ugly. All the ways we spend our time are part of that formation.
And the really important part is that we must learn from any way we spend our time. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m wrong about a lot of things, but I know this for certain: you cannot learn from something you did or experienced if you label it as “wasting time.” If you want to take the most advantage of your education, then that’s a choice: make every part of your life educational, not just the time you spend doing schoolwork or in the classroom.
Are there ways my time could be better spent? Would I be better off if I didn’t spend so much time writing, working, or running? No, that is false. I would have been different, for sure, but I wouldn’t have been better if spent my time any other way.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
These lines are perhaps what you say when you apply to a job and you’re trying to stand out as unique from the applicant pool, but the traveler, earlier in the poem, looks down the other road he could have taken and notices that it is “just as fair” and that it was “worn…about the same,” suggesting that it probably didn’t matter which road the traveler took, but the traveler will look back and claim that taking one road made all the difference.
But in some ways, taking that does. The traveler also notes that “Oh, I kept the first for another day,” regretting and ruminating over the path he could have taken otherwise, and this what I believe we do when we believe in the concept of “wasting time.” We went down a road with how we’ve spent our time until today, and when we think of any part of that as “wasted,” we’re keeping the other road we could have taken in the past and thinking about the ways it could have been better spent.
The road less traveled by is our own roads, a road that is by no means “wasting time.” We wouldn’t be who we are any other way.