Growing up in Australia in a comfortable middle-class family, there were a number of things I thought were distinct possibilities for the future; a third world war, a cure for cancer, colonisation of other planets and a reduced working week allowing for greater equity in the distribution of employment opportunities and reduced stress for society in general. War on a global scale has come in a form I never envisaged, medical research is progressing in leaps and bounds and if Elon Musk has anything to do with it, we’ll be sending men to Mars before 2030. But the developed world appears to have made little to no progress towards work-life balance, with salaried employees typically working far in excess of a 40-hour week. A fair percentage of our consumer society is geared towards providing solutions for the status quo of ‘we are all time-poor’, with products and services designed to make up for the amount of time we spend at work by reducing the amount of time we need to spend on things like cooking and cleaning. It doesn’t seem to be helping; I don’t hear or see anyone reporting a trend of us becoming ‘time richer’. Direct Debit is reducing the amount of time we need to spend on paying bills, but we’re still spending more time than ever earning the money to pay them. Einstein’s theory of insanity is to keep repeating the same action while expecting a different result. Perhaps it’s time (no pun intended) we looked at the problem from a different perspective.
Is being ‘time poor’ a first world problem? Possibly, possibly not. The Fijian shop keeper I met this week who told me about the two hour drive from his village to his shop and back again every day certainly seemed to have a sense of time that belied the local tongue-in-cheek notion of ‘Fiji Time’. Time certainly stood still here this week as a nation of islands held its breath while their Rugby 7’s team made Olympic history fighting for gold. Both of these are scenarios which play out in any of the more developed countries around the globe. Regardless of the regions of the world where it applies, ’poverty’ implies a comparative scale, a state of haves and have nots. It’s a term that incontestably can be applied to money, but unless Musk or his successors invent time travel, this simply doesn’t apply to time. Time is perhaps the greatest leveller that exists for the human race; some of us are granted more days than others, but each day that we do have consists of 24 hours, regardless of whether you’re a multi-national CEO or a minimum wage earner. So from the perspective of the number of hours in a day, we are all equal. How we choose to use those hours is where the difference lies.
The key word here is ‘choose’; in the fast-paced society of the western world it’s often hard to realise or remember that we do have choices. Of course monetary wealth opens up more choices than a lack of it, but we do all have choices, arguably more so than ever before. We may not like the choices available; they may all be less than ideal but that doesn’t mean there are none. Some of the choices we make lock us in to pathways which then limit our options. Most choices have consequences and it’s best to be aware of them and weigh them up before committing to a decision. What we’re really doing by making choices is prioritising one set of consequences over another. If we’re feeling unsatisfied, it’s probably a hint that our priorities aren’t aligned to our enduring core values, to the things which we intrinsically need to make us happy. An indication that the choices we’re making are taking us away from what we really want, rather than towards it. Of course a good place to start is figuring out what we really want; what our enduring core values really are. So… this time tomorrow, in 24 hours’ time; will you be happy with the choices you’ve made today?