Michael He

April 10, 2022

Life Is Not A Countdown

When I was driving on Friday, a thought came to me.

Why am I living life like it's always a countdown?

It's something I hinted at when I was writing about time management. After that I read Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks again. It is an excellent book, perhaps the best book on time management written (Professor Adam Grant agrees with me).

The Philosophy Surrounding Time

What the book does is to get us to think about time and our relationship with it. By providing a lot of contexts and history to technology and life before the industrial age, we arrive at a startling conclusion.

This notion of "time is ticking" is new, abstract, and foreign to humans.

I don't plan to write an entire treatise on the tyranny of time (yet), but I want to keep a few important thoughts.

When we abstract time as a separate entity from life itself, it becomes a resource we can use, calculate, allocate, and most importantly, trade and squeeze for "maximal efficiency" and "profits". By doing this so blindly and unconsciously, we not only treat this as the norm, but also forget our intention of doing this in the first place. Who really benefits from everyone adopting this line of thinking? Certainly modernity and the capitalist system. Us? Not so sure.

Since time is a resource now, it's no longer sacred, just like nature centuries ago. Forests are no longer the places for spirits to protect, but geographical locations to profit immensely from clear-cutting and mining. Similarly, time is not a sacred medium for us to carry on life, but something others can constantly invade, trample, and mutilate. Work from home definitely pointed out this absurdity to the extreme. Can you imagine a 10 PM Zoom meeting as a norm before COVID?

We don't respect our own time. And we don't respect others' time, which leads to us disrespecting our own time even more.

Because the system is so entrenched, every attempt to push back is going uphill and punching up. Slacking and passivity will not be allowed, because that means progress gets lost. It is something to always keep in mind.

It's not to say this way of viewing time is inherently wrong. It exists for legitimate reasons, but it's the lack of dialogue on this fundamental part of the human existence (one previous philosophers ponder a lot but not the contemporaries who are much more obsessed with power and identity) that is troublesome. Shutting down the conversation before it even starts, that's the worse part of oppression.

But one thing I know for sure is I don't want to live my life like the clock is ticking towards zero. That will never bring me peace nor happiness.

I think we are a bit too bathed in the Steve Jobs ethos of "live like it's the last day of your life". It is an excellent way to figure out priorities, but making that a habit becomes dangerously so. Anxiety and fear fuel us now, instead of hope and joy (maybe peace doesn't work as fuel for motivation, a topic for another day). And it doesn't help when we constantly shift our goalpost, so no matter how hard we try, we will never be happy with what we already have achieved.

No matter what happens, I don't want to live like there is a deadline to everything. There are certainly pressing matters and realistic things to consider, but that cannot be all there is to life. One thing I'd like to push back against my default thinking is, if we need such precise engineering and deliberate calculation to make something barely work like the modern system (macro and individual), then is it something that's worth having in the first place? Is this the system God wants us to use, especially when 99% of recorded history has not lived this way?

So no, life is not a countdown.

Something More Relevant

The reason I'm writing this right now on a Sunday is because I am five weeks from graduation.

Last week I wrote about the things that I want to continue doing whether life is counting down or not. I want to expand on that notion, but make it more grounded.

The next five weeks will go by a lot quicker than I imagine. It's one of those iron rules of college. When you think you will have time, you won't. The opposite is also true. The result is we will feel inadequate no matter what, because we will constantly ask for the opposite instead of being focused on what we have.

So instead of trying to cram everything in, meet as many friends as I can (and some more), and live a frantic pace, I will just do the usual. Five weeks aren't enough to turn anything around, anyways. Small changes are certainly welcome, but I'm not going to change in major ways.

The next week will be mostly focused on the thesis until its hard deadline. Life will be roughly similar to that. Thesis is the reason why I haven't been writing the blog like usual, though the K-Pop newsletter is also taking an entire day each week (which I'm proud of).

Similarly, classes will resume as usual. I'm not going to set any ambitious plans to learn new things. Just do the current things well - Greek, Italian, tennis, dancing, and piano. I will add my own little spin to each class just slightly.

After thesis is done, I will have a lot more time to focus on the projects I've been working on. There will be closure on things I've been working on, including entrepreneurship, See's Candy, something about BTS (if not multiple), and urban planning. In addition to that, I will take some time to write about my college experience and education around graduation's time. 

The Moament newsletter will keep going as usual. Three bi-weekly editions, one comeback guide, and an additional essay or two. I am really curious to what will happen there, it's still a brand new learning experience.

In terms of bigger things, there are three. One, job search, which is still ongoing. I will try even harder on that front (maybe another 20 applications before May?). Two, a weekend trip to Nebraska for the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting. It will be a life-changing experience for sure. Three, moving out of college. Packing will take some time, but it might be the best time to Marie Kondo my physical belongings. Of course, time and chances to make money whenever possible.

Oh! I forgot to add. I will make an essay collection over the last year this summer! This will include my favorite essays and additional picks by my friends, rewriting some, and perhaps even new essays.

I'm happy to not live life like a countdown. Hope to see what happens.