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The Absurdly Simple Honor

If we did simple exercises for thirty minutes a day, we would greatly improve our strength, health, beauty and life expectancy.

If we studied one hour a day, we could relatively soon learn languages, master wide knowledge and develop new professions.

If we sensibly invested $1/day, we would in 30 years control substantial wealth.

If we did the absurdly simple honor of planning our free time, we would enlarge ourselves into a whole new dimension of freedom. Yet we often fail to do any of these things, so great is our contempt of the future, so massive our ignorance of ourselves.

– Robert Grudin, Time and the Art of Living

For the last four months I’ve had an abundance of time on my hands, and I filled that time with all sorts of activities. I trained for a marathon. I searched for jobs. I read widely, often four books at a time from subjects including natural history, behavioral economics, and business. I developed side projects that could one day lead to new careers. I traveled. I found new ways to spend money on coffee.

Without the daily demands of a job, it was easy to find time to do the things I’d been putting off, to binge on whatever I felt interested in that day, to indulge myself without accountability.

I could argue that there is some  discipline to making sure I wasn’t sitting on the couch, re-memorizing the lines of every Seinfeld episode. That’s too convenient, though. Just because I was being constructive, that what I was doing by not waking up in hungover stupors averaged out to a net positive doesn’t mean my actions don’t deserve reflection. It’s juvenile to argue you’re building yourself up when there aren’t any stakes. Steel is forged in fire, not in the comfy confines of a life without risk. It’s easy to read when you don’t have to go into work. It’s fun to sit down and come up with 10 ideas for businesses you’d start if you don’t have to start them. To master Duolingo. To read all of your magazines cover to cover.

Filling our time isn’t planning our time.

For the next four weeks, my time will be filled with work again. And maybe for weeks or months after that. With my work last year, I allowed myself to become seduced. It became the identity I needed, to the detriment of everything else. I allowed myself to believe that because work was filling my time, that I didn’t need to plan the rest of it. I could let slide that which I needed to do.

There was still free time, I just didn’t do myself, as Grudin puts it, one absurdly simple honor.

Because developing yourself is an honor, transforming your interests into passions, your hobbies into livelihoods, your pocket change into a nest egg; each is of devastating importance. Each is within our grasp, no matter the demands of our work, or our family, or our lives.

It’s an hour a day, or a half hour a day, or 10 pages of a book a day. It’s sitting down once a week to make a plan for the week. It’s taking time each month to think about what you can do with a month. Free yourself to live a life beyond the one that you’ve known.

Don’t ignore what you could do. Don’t ignore who you could be.

Don’t ignore yourself.


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