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A few years ago, the phrase “reclaiming my time” made waves across the internet when congresswoman Maxine Waters uttered it boldly (and repeatedly) during a congressional hearing.
The gist of the story is that the Republican Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was trying to get out of answering an important question posed by Waters by running the clock out with platitudes and unimportant small talk.
Waters wasn’t having it. She interrupted his every meaningless utterance with the phrase, “reclaiming my time.”
Women across the country ignited with joy at the image of a woman of color standing up in such a powerful way in front of Congress.
But, it wasn’t just about the unexpected power move made in Congress that had everyone excited. It was the words themselves, “reclaiming my time,” that dispatched themselves like a system upgrade within each one of us, unlocking a new and empowering idea within our consciousness.
The new idea? My time belongs to me.
This isn’t only true in congressional hearings when someone has been “given” an allotted amount of time to speak. When it comes to our lives, time is not given to us by a court, a teacher, or any other earthly authority. Each one of us owns the right to our time. But we seldom think of it that way.
From the moment we’re born, our time is managed for us, and understandably so. At school we’re given deadlines, put on someone else’s schedule, get rushed to bus stops and interrupted by abrasive bells. This is, of course, important practice for our maturation and general life function, but before all of the schedules, alarm clocks, calendar invites, and overrun meetings take over, most of us never quite grok that time was ever ours to begin with, or that in fact, time is our most precious commodity, and one of the few things that truly belongs to us as individuals.
Contrary to how it’s often presented, time is not airy and extraneous. It’s not an overflowing, ancillary substance that can be drained alongside the bathwater. It’s not free and abundant like so many wildflowers on the side of the road, equally poised to be picked and admired or mowed down by the dozen.
Time may not, in fact, be real, as many mystics contend. But, all good mystics also know that there is that which is true from the spiritual, nonphysical vantage point, and then there is that which is real to us here on Earth, from our physical perspectives. And from that place— from this place—time is very real, and in fact, it is all that we have.
Our ability to claim, manage, and use our own time is a good indicator of what we’ll be able to pull off within our lifetimes. From that perspective, time is the raw material of our lives, and what we do with that time is the equivalent of getting our hands in the clay and molding our lives into the masterpieces we imagine they can be.
So many of us have dreams tucked away in the back closets of our consciousness, ready and waiting for the day that we will somehow gain the necessary time needed to pursue them.
But here’s the rub: we already have all of the time we are ever going to get. And, unless we claim it, that time is liable to get siphoned away—by the television, by our jobs, by other people’s schedules, by chatty mothers-in-laws, by Instagram.
Your job is not to wait for time to be given to you. That already happened on the day you were born. The practice now is to reclaim it, and the mantra, coined by Maxine Waters back in 2018, is “Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. ”
Start to think of your time as found pennies and nickels, and when you’re lucky, the occasional quarter or whole dollar bill. Reclaim your time by the minute, by the hour, by the second. Scrape the corners of meetings and morning routines for every last inch of what is yours, and see it as such—which is to claim it.
In practical terms, this means that if you find yourself waking up an hour before work rushing around thinking about your job—whether in a productive way, or by feeling anxiety or dread about it, you’ve given that hour away to your job for free. Take it back.
And the way to do that—at least at first when we’re learning what to do with our own time—is to draw concrete parameters around that hour.
In other words, schedule it for yourself. It doesn’t matter what you schedule it for, just make sure it’s in your day planner or Google Calendar. “Morning Pages.” “60-minute walk with Janet.” “Meditation.” Or, if you need an even more concrete plan in order to manage that hour, find a yoga class that starts and ends precisely within that hour and go to it. For now, anything works, because the goal is simply to get you in the habit of prying the world’s hands off of your day. Once you get the hang of it, you can become more intentional about how you’ll invest that time to create compounding returns for your life.
Often, we’re so unused to being the guardians of our own time, we receive found minutes like a hot potato tossed our way. We don’t feel we have the right to it. It burns our hands. We toss it back to whoever will take it—our email inboxes, our Instagram feeds, our to-do lists. But being busy does not equate to reclaiming our time. To truly reclaim our time, it must be spent in such a way that it has the effect of building our lives, goals, or inner peace. And that can happen in two-minute chunks, or two-week retreats. So, don’t overthink it. For now, have a set plan for found time—whether it’s an important podcast you’ll listen to in five-minute chunks, or a breathing practice you return to whenever a meeting ends.
What if you have kids? Multiple jobs? A laundry list of responsibilities? Every person’s particular time puzzle is going to look different. It’s not necessarily fair, but minutes can still be found, no matter what your day looks like. Many of us have seen the catchy Pinterest post reminding us that we all have the same 24 hours in a day that Beyoncé has. What we don’t all have are the financial means and support staff to do all that she does within those 24 hours. That’s okay. The mantra is still the same, and so is the action: reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time. You don’t have to be Beyoncé. You just have to make space for yourself inside of your own life, one minute at a time.
For you, today, that may mean five minutes in the drive-thru line. Those five minutes matter. Use them to listen to an informative podcast or to meditate. I’m working on this piece in the 20 minutes I take between drinking a glass of water in the morning and eating my breakfast. After that, I’ll be flush with responsibilities. But, these 20 minutes? These are mine if only I’ll use them. In fact, it’s in this previously neglected window of time that I’ve finally been able to birth the daily writing practice I’ve been holding out on for the last several years.
My excuse up until now? Work takes up too much of my time.
Well, it turns out that work can only take what I am willing to give it. And the time I need to explore my dreams and passions? The space to creatively express myself? I’m not giving that away. Not for a paycheck, an extra 20 minutes of sleep, or the seductive buzz of my phone.
I’m reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time, reclaiming my time.