“No one has time any more for anyone else.” The words sat there, just a few pages into our novel study of Fahrenheit 451. My breath caught in my throat. I’ve read those very words over a dozen times, but this year, they read differently.
In 1953, Bradbury predicted many things. From screens that interact with us (hello, Facebook Portal!) to the earplug-style radios (hello, AirPods!), his work intuited much about our current world.
Over 60 years later, a teenager’s lament at the start of that book has become our reality. In a world that’s been consumed by busy-ness and a round-the-clock desire to hustle, we’ve run out of time. For ourselves, yes, absolutely. Even more alarmingly, we’ve run out of time for anyone else.
Whereas the self care industry seems hellbent on getting us to shell out for gobs and goops (you made it too easy with the name, Gwyneth) as salves for running ourselves ragged, there isn’t a communal corollary. The fact that we all seem too busy to notice is what’s really alarming.
Looking Outward, Not In
Personal finance enthusiasts love sports metaphors. Financial journeys are often compared to running. There’s the adage “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
As someone who ran one torturous season of indoor and outdoor track in high school, I learned many things. Our head coach shouted “Run” exactly seven times in a row or not at all. It never varied. An assistant coach promised us baked goods if we worked out hard enough to throw up. “Toss yours and I’ll buy more!” he’d shout. And in a relay, if someone crosses into your lane after their hand off and knocks you down, you both get disqualified. Ask my bruised ego how I know.
I also learned running isn’t for me.
While I’m definitely not an expert, it doesn’t take Usain Bolt to figure out why we use running as the defining metaphor in finance. Finance is a solo journey. Me, my spreadsheets, and I. We’re even cautioned to not worry about others and to stay in our lanes (though, clearly, Becky from that other school team never heeded that advice).
We expend so much time and effort ignoring the Joneses and their new cars, that we seem to have not noticed that we’re distancing ourselves from the people in our lives. Of course, there are amazing online communities of like-minded individuals, and there are local meet ups as well.
But when we decide that we have nothing in common with family and friends and neighbors, what are the consequences of that? My bank account might be better off, that’s certainly true. Something else I’ve realized, though, is that keeping your head down and running your own race is a really insulating and isolating way to live a lifetime.
The Wrong Kind of Busy
It was the beginning of August when I got the phone call. A close relative was sick.
Immediately, I started running numbers in my head. I counted the days until the start of the school year. I did a mental review of outstanding freelance projects. I wondered when it would be easiest to slot in a visit. Perhaps the weekend. Maybe the following week. I could just call and talk to her.
Before I could even articulate just how very and terribly busy I was, the voice on the other end of the phone continued.
“She has seven days left. Maybe ten.”
I thought I was busy before that phone call, and maybe I was. Of course, I had commitments that mattered. I’m fortunate and hardworking enough to have fallen into a life I love. My son, my husband. My family, my friends. My neighbors, my hobbies.
But those weren’t actually the things that I was most devoted to. Not really. Just thinking about where my mind went when my phone rang is confirmation of that. I allowed myself to become so utterly consumed by the idea of being busy, to be swallowed up by our culture of busy-ness, that I lost track of what really mattered.
I got busy with all the wrong things.
RELATED POST: When It’s Time to Choose Time Over Money
Time and Money Well Spent
There’s a lot of pressure to be judicious with your time and your money. So it seems frivolous to take an hour to accommodate a last-minute ask from a friend to grab coffee. It’s burdensome to go to yet another family dinner. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, or even painful to attend a neighborhood gathering. These are all things that are rain-checked, pushed to later calendar dates, layered with polite, albeit half-hearted, apologies.
Get the coffee.
Plan the lunch.
Arrange the dinner.
Buy the flowers.
Order the book.
Pick up the phone.
Send the text.
None of these things are catastrophic to a budget nor do they require supreme amounts of time. If I can lose hours a day scrolling through social media and doing the open-close-open dance with the work email app on my phone, I can take fifteen minutes (or 5!) to check in.
If you can’t spend money, spend time. If you can’t be there in person, be there somehow.
It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But the more often we do it, the easier it gets and the better it feels. Because what Hustle Harder culture overlooks is how sad it is to run a race only to find no one waiting for you at the finish line.
Final Thoughts on Showing Up
One of the hardest things I’ve done was to answer that phone call. Not to click the button on the phone, but to actually answer the call. It meant digging deep. I had to juggle and stretch, cry and laugh, plan and scramble. Ultimately, I had to confront where my time was going and if that actually aligned with any of the things that I claim to care about.
I had to decide to what or who in my life I was showing up for.
Later in Fahrenheit 451, another of Bradbury’s characters shouts, “We need not to be let alone.” He’s right. We need not to be let alone, and we need not to let others alone.
So Tell Me…How do you make sure you show up for who and what really matters?
Pssst…If you haven’t listened to this gem from Tim Kreider, do it now and report back. It’s 13 minutes well spent. You’re not to busy to listen, I promise.