One of my great joys comes in the form of small envelopes: hand-lettered, calligraphed letters or little thoughtful illos for special people in my life. Whether it’s for occasions like parties and holidays or simple greetings like postcards or “thank-you” cards, I get excited over the idea of people receiving these small gestures of hand-crafted thought in the mail. Of course, when I am on the receiving end, I acknowledge how wonderful it is to receive something custom and thoughtful that someone took the time to make! Especially in a world that has become more digital/less analog. No harm done if this is you, but I appreciate snail mail over template e-cards any day.
For me, 2016 was a fairly rough year. I’m sure many can relate to some sour feelings that dragged throughout the year both in political, environmental, and perhaps even personal realms. In the midst of what seemed like a vocational paralysis for me at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do a lot of holistic, self-evaluation. The year challenged me at the start in many ways.
With regard to social-relational challenges, there’s one thing I really learned. It was a self-deprecation prevention tactic: draw near to, affirm, celebrate, and reflect on those who lift you up the most. With this in mind, I decided to spend much of 2016 making up for past years of static intentions. I decided to follow through with [finally] sending out that thank-you card for that personable scholarship, painting that custom commission for that professor that really impacted me in college, traveling many miles to visit that lifelong friend who’s been wanting me to visit for years, and calling my grandma more frequently.
I looked back on 2016 and thought, “Where did all the time go?” I discovered much of it went to spending time on others while not getting paid to do so.
Sometimes we give ourselves a hard knock when we feel like we’ve wasted our time. I feel like I wasted 2016 in some respects. That most likely ties back to that paralysis and self-deprecation I mentioned. Sulking really doesn’t do much for us, does it? But I now perceive that I needed to redefine what it meant to create and preserve valuable time. I was sometimes in remorse for wasting the time I did have to spend with and on others: “I wish that 6 hour coffee date with that older gentleman didn’t press on so long” or “I just wasted 10 hours on this gift for a friend when I could’ve been creating my business plan.” In hindsight: those moments for others were the most important healing remedies and the greatest gifts.
I didn’t waste all those moments like I thought I had. I merely had to separate them from the sulky, poop moments. They may not had brought monetary value (in fact, some of them costed me monetarily). Nevertheless, they became invaluable, slow-down moments that cemented time’s importance as a whole. They also helped assure me of the biggest question I had for myself this year: “What do I spend my time working at next?”
This interfered with my “time is money” approach to life I didn’t even realize I had. I was being so consumed with ways to make a career for myself and pay myself. My passion for vocation sometimes masqueraded my goals to have money and status. Of course, passion, stability, and work are important. But it’s also extremely refreshing to look at time in a new light and think about time as something more than just working for work’s sake. Every minute does not equal a pretty penny. That’s okay.
As a working Western culture, we might silently stigmatize givers of thoughtful gifts as people who have too much time on their hands or givers of time wasteful if they are not doing it to push their career, network, or get a tax break. This is an uninformed and perhaps insecure way to think. Before you say, “I wish I had the time to spare to [insert time-consuming task of giving here]”, go ahead and just spare the time. Have no incentives and no regrets.
My friends, family, and clients may or may not not realize that it took me 20+ hours to create 70+ hand-letterpressed, hand-calligraphed, hand-stamped holiday cards. That they know that information isn’t all that important to me. I don’t brag about it nor should I get embarrassed about it. What matters to me is that I care about them enough to spend time on them.
What is important is that for every moment I spent this year writing that name all fancy, not getting paid to make that gift, taking an extra hour out of my day to sit over coffee with someone, or singing along at the top of my lungs in the rental car to Whitney Houston with a trusted friend, I am spending our time on earth better. Time’s integrity rests with the word “sacrifice” and time well spent results in peace.
I have come to peace with 2016 and I hope you have, too.