November 15, 2016

The Trick that helps me Relax when I feel like People are Wasting my Time.

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Excerpt from Ambition Addiction: How to Go Slow, Give Thanks, and Discover Joy Within by Benjamin Shalva


Before becoming a father, I thought I would love snow days.

I imagined whipping up pancakes for half a dozen chattering cherubs, then stuffing my animated offspring into cocoons of puffy outerwear and the lot of us diving from the front porch into billowing mounds of snow.

We’d spend the day building forts, snowball fighting, and white-knuckling down toboggan runs, returning home at dusk to sit by the hearth, warm our frozen digits, and watch mini-marshmallows melt in our mugs.

Hence, I was shocked to discover that, as an actual father of two flesh-and-blood children, I hate snow days.

The minute I hear word of an impending storm, I bristle. My stomach tightens. My jaw clenches. I seriously consider climbing into my car, pointing it due south, and flooring it until I see palm trees and retirees.

It’s not just snow days that fold me into a fetal position. I panic before any school closings. I love my children with all my heart and soul.

But I’m an ambition addict and I work from home.

A day without school, instigated by design of calendar or by dint of falling snow, is a day of plummeting productivity. A day being full-time dad requires a detour from my dreams.

Time being an ambition addict’s most cherished commodity, we dole it out scrupulously. We hope to receive, with every precious minute, a high return on investment. So when the world knocks on our door, asking us in the form of, say, a snow day, to donate time, we may resist.

When we consistently say no, however, when we systematically withhold our time from inopportune individuals, be they family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers, we spread seeds of suffering. By hoarding our time from the homeless veteran we see on the street corner, or from the attendant pumping our gas, or even from the family dog once again whining for a walk, we devalue these individuals. And they know it. Our lack of care and concern hurts.

On the road to recovery, then, we redistribute our attention and donate time. We donate time to the people we love most in this world. We donate time to absolute strangers. We donate time when convenient. More often than not, we donate time when inconvenient. Even rushing out of the office and down to the parking garage, on a roll, in the zone, ravenous for that win dangling inches from our nose, we donate time to the parking attendant who, knowing what we do, knowing who we are, has chosen this as the opportune moment to pitch us his damn screenplay.

To practice donating time, we start by noting the cast of characters who regularly enter and exit our story.

We compile a list, an actual list inked on paper or typed to cloud. On this list, we jot down the sentient creatures that play a supporting role in our story. Who do we encounter each day? Who did we regularly bump into at the breakfast table, at the office, or in the supermarket aisles?

Once we’ve compiled our list of names, we then note, next to each name, how we chose to spend our time with each of these key individuals during the previous day. We chart the occasions when we held tight to our time and the moments when we gave our time away.

When, for example, my wife entered our kitchen for her morning coffee, did I look up from my writing? Did I pause my ambitious pursuits to give her a kiss, ask her how she’s doing, and listen to a few inscrutable stories about yesterday’s drama at the office? Did I, despite all my rage, close my laptop and engage? Or did I give a quick “Hey, babe,” and keep pounding for that Pulitzer? At 6:13 yesterday morning, I was offered two options—donate my time to my wife or edge a few words closer to my dreams. How did I respond? Which option did I choose?

Having charted the previous day’s myriad encounters, we scan the data. Have we fully withheld our time and attention from specific individuals on our list? Have we donated time to others, but in far lesser amounts compared with the number of occasions we rebuffed these same individuals? To practice donating time, we search for opportunities to engage those we’ve previously neglected. Then we set a goal for the coming day. We choose one of the individuals we neglected during the previous 24 hours and pledge to donate at least a few extra minutes, tomorrow, on that individual’s behalf.

When we follow through, tomorrow, by engaging one of these handpicked individuals, we may encounter internal resistance. We declined this same individual the day before for good reason. He threatened to distract us from our dreams. We considered her extraneous to our striving.

The following day, when we reverse course and choose to engage, we can expect, then, to feel itchy, edgy, and impatient.

The encounter might start out pleasant enough. I might see my neighbor, Mary, watering the flowers by her front stoop, stroll over to her, and, remembering my pledge to donate time to Mary, might ask, “So, Mary, how’s it going?”

Mary, perhaps a little surprised that her busy, brooding neighbor would inquire so amiably of her wellbeing, might smile, take a deep breath, and respond, “Well, you know, I couldn’t sleep last night. So I looked outside my window. This must have been, I don’t know, around three in the morning. I saw these kids, teenagers, running back and forth between our yards. Right here. Now I know your son’s bike was stolen last fall. And I had a shovel and two deck chairs stolen, too. I think it’s these hoodlums. They run around, high on God knows what, and if it isn’t locked up, they’ll snatch it. I used to work in the schools. Oh, yes, I taught history and let me tell you, some of those kids, well, I was afraid for my safety…”

At some point during Mary’s eloquent, captivating dissertation, I’ve started praying for a drone to copter down from the clouds and put me out of my misery.

In the midst of a donation, if we feel resistance arise, we can casually glance at our watch, note the time, and resolve to donate another 60 seconds.

When those wearisome 60 seconds expire, we should go ahead and fake that migraine, read that fictional text message, or employ whatever strategy we need to politely extricate ourselves from the encounter. Then, the next time we practice, we can shoot for two minutes. And the time after that, three. On the road to recovery, we strengthen our abilities slowly and systematically, challenging without overwhelming, growing without grinding to a halt.

Though we ambition addicts view time as our most treasured resource, we also treat time as our most formidable foe.

Time is the enemy. Time dangles above us like a noose. If we fail in our ambitious endeavors, it won’t be for lack of trying. Time will have simply run out. Time will have planted one last kiss on our cheek and then bolted out the back door.

Here, when we donate time, when we shower time upon those who won’t advance our ambition, we stop treating time as the enemy. Instead, we impose upon ourselves a revolutionary and radical perspective. We start treating time as a friend. We relate to time with love, care, respect, and gratitude. By generously donating time, by filling our minutes with sweet, unambitious encounters, time, believe it or not, appears to have expanded in all directions.

Standing in the center of this abundant resource, embraced by time as true friend, we look around, we breathe, and, perhaps for the first time in as long as we can remember, we’ve got time on our hands.


Author: Benjamin Shalva

Image: The New Yorker

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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