Joy in the Shortness of Life

Recently, I found a small volume called On the Shortness of Life, Life is long if you know how to use it written by Seneca, a man who lived between 5 BC and 65 Ad. He talked about how Romans wasted their days on trivia, researching unimportant details like which battle was one first or who commanded the fleet a 100 years before — who cares? Or, people amassing things to show off, spending years at jobs that demean them or the leisure class that when pulled from their bath asked, “Am I standing or sitting?”

Seneca’s words punched me not once but over and over with the idea of how much time I waste and what is the point of it all? I looked at my many years and see I was afraid to do what I really wanted, so I hid in my time wasters.

The good news from Seneca was there is plenty of time if you know how to use it.

I set a goal to take back control of my time. I decided to look at my three biggest time wasters. My phone use, my binge Netflix watching, and my “nice guy” attitude.

The cell phone

I hide behind my phone too much. It’s easier to just not interact with people. In person, you have to think of something to say where with my phone interaction I can just be a “fly on the wall” watching conversations. It’s addicting to me, but that’s what phones do: keep you engaged in their screen and not real life. It’s a real addiction.

My screen time averaged four hours a day. I was shocked — four hours of my life looking at a little screen in my hand. Yuck.

So, I made a conscious effort to put the phone away, but use it for important things: finding information, making connections through the phone or messages, and storing information.

In one week I dropped my screen time down to less than 45 minutes a day. That still seems a lot, but it’s better than four hours. I got three hours of my life back!

Binge watching television

T.V. shows suck me in so easily, specially fantasy. The writers are so good at leaving you wanting more: more of the characters I love or more of what’s going to happen next. Once I find a show I like, I need more and Netflix, Prime and the make it so easy to keep watching. I zone out and three hours later — that’s three hours a night — I’m begging for more time to watch the next show. That’s bad.

So, I’m holding myself to one show per night. That’s it. I can watch one other show, something educational besides my favorite fictional characters. My time saved dropped only an hour, but that hour I talked with my son about his day.

Giving control of my life to others.

This one is hard. I just naturally lean toward being nice, accommodating, LIKED, needed. In being so, I find my time given to other’s needs. I would guess 25 % of my time is doing things for other people.

Breaking this habit will take time. I must learn how to be assertive and not feel guilty for my wants. When I agree to some activity or task that I really don’t want to do, I feel hollow and weak. When I do stand up for what I want, it brings me incredible joy and resolve.

Up until recently, I didn’t mind, but the older I get, the more I put off my own desires, the sadder I get. That’s when I felt Seneca’s verbal punch in the face. “What are you doing?” I feel he is saying to me from almost 2000 years ago. “Why are you waiting until it’s too late?”

Already I feel my body changing, weakening. I started getting dizzy spells. It takes me twice as long to finish a task than it did, just twenty years ago.

I’ve ignored the signs twenty years ago.

I remember I was fishing the beach near Point Wilson lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington. I spied a man in a wheel chair when I walked back to my car. I said, “Where’s your fishing pole?” What he said next shook me to my core, like Seneca on the topic of time. He said, “You think you can fish for ever. You can’t.” I didn’t know what to say. I think I laughed and moved to my car, but his words kept ringing in my ears.

“All those years I had in my pocket,

I spent them, nickel and dime.”

Peter Mulvey

That night I went swing dancing with a friend, and as I twirled my older friend on an inside turn, she became unsteady. I caught her and helped her finish the turn. When the dance ended she leaned in and whispered, “You think you can dance forever. You can’t.”

Twice in one day! the same words spoken to me.

But, I didn’t listen. I continued to put off what I wanted to do with my life because I needed to make money. I felt strong, healthy. I’ve got time I’d told myself.

Now, with my skin sagging, my eye sight fading, my hair thinning, I look back at all the time I wasted. I “spent it nickel and dime” just because I thought I had plenty of it.

“You think you can dance forever. You can’t.”


The good news is, I now recognize how time is deceptively fleeting, but I can choose to spend the rest of my days of my choosing. For me, it’s always been writing. I wanted to write 100 novels, but I let all my time wasters take precedent.

I started writing my novels. I have six, now. I’ve got a long way to go, but I just have to start where I’m at. I can’t look at the past, it only causes me to feel distracted from my present creative passion. I’m through with my time wasters taking me away from my passion, my creative writing. It’s amazing that it took words written almost 2000 years ago, to prod me to look at my time as a fleeting gift. Nothing has brought me greater joy.

Peace, Joy, Love

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