Make the most of your time. Enjoy what we have. It all goes by fast.
We hear this stuff a lot. All the time. Yet, it often seems to fall on deaf ears, even for the most well-intended of us. I mean, it’s hard not to get distracted in today’s world isn’t it? With a keyboard in front of us or a smartphone in the palm of our hands, we can easily check out what the rest of our friends, strangers, or the world is up to with a quick scroll that easily becomes a long scroll, a response to tap out, and a photo to capture this moment on a Tuesday afternoon we’d otherwise let pass by as we eat lunch.
Our followers need to see this funny meme. This photo of me will get enough likes to make me feel better about myself for another day or so.
Perhaps it’s that album we need to record, that book we need to finish writing, that piece of art that’s just not perfect but should be. Whatever it is, it hangs there, gnawing at us to come back to it, to finish it, to shut out the rest of the world and see this through so the rest of the world can share in our vision – our place in the fabric of culture sewn and secured for the rest of eternity.
Or we so often tell ourselves.
I certainly am not immune. Every time I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or hold a finished book or creative product in my hands, I get caught up in a euphoria that this thing, right here, might outlast me. But time passes, swiftly, as we’re often reminded, and even those products we create, those stories we tell, that branding we curate, it all fades in time.
This winter, I was struck by an interview with Conan O’Brien that ran in the New York Times, with discussions of when his then-latest running late night series might come to a close.
Is this how you want to go out, with a show that gets smaller and smaller until it’s gone?
Maybe that’s O.K. I think you have more of a problem with that than I do. [Laughs.] At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute, and climb into a rocket and the entire Supreme Court walks out and they jointly press a button, I’m shot up into the air and there’s an explosion and it’s orange and it spells, “Good night and God love.” In this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, who’s Conan? This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
You’re right, that does sound grim.
Sorry. Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think that’s what separates me from the other hosts.
I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.
I remember reading initial reactions to this article online as people wondered if Conan was all right, if he was in a state of depression or deep sadness. When I read it, I saw a man with an incredibly healthy perspective that I felt I could learn something from.
That’s not me being against putting forth your creative energies. Please, by all means, do! I encourage everyone to find a creative outlet, whether you are a New York Times Best-Selling author, a professional Hollywood director/actor, or you’re working a steel mill and acting on the community theatre stage or sketching in a sketchbook by night. Find what brings you joy. Relish the happiness that being creative brings you.
What I’m saying, what it took me a long time to really, truly understand myself, is to not let it consume you. You can spend your entire life with that one focus, shutting out the rest of the world and people around you. You may hold it in your hands (and enjoy that moment, you should, you’ve earned it), but keep in mind, those hands will one day be gone.
By my very nature, I’m the type of person to constantly have juggling pins in the air, plates spinning, a multitude of projects that I’ve lined up, either professionally or just for myself that I want to get done, I want to cross off that list. So much so, that it can very easily slip from ‘i want to get this done’ to ‘I NEED to get this done,’ at the expense of the one thing none of us get extra of – our time. Time that can be spent with a loving partner, sharing laughs with friends, getting down on the floor or the grass and playing with children, looking to the world around you and savoring it for a few moments longer than you did the day before. The other stuff will get done. It will. But before you know it, so will each of us, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I’m going to try making a better effort at it myself. Putting down the phone (where I’ve been keeping electronic lists as of late), fighting back the nagging urge to drop other things around me in order to just do something I can cross off. I need to get outside more, I need to get down on the floor more and actually play with the kids instead of watching them play while I work on other things. Things that can often wait.
Don’t become all-obsessive, I beg you. Look around you, to the world, to the people, and enjoy every moment with them, on this earthly plane.
I live by lists, I admit it.
Every day, my planner is filled with a myriad of “to-dos” that I set out to try and accomplish, be they personal, work, phone calls, writing projects, blog posts, catching up on e-mail replies, or just things around the house. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment to be had when you cross something off your list and know that it’s done and complete and you don’t have to worry about it again, unless it’s a recurring task.
It’s a habit I got into back in high school, around 10th or 11th grade. An assignment from one of our teachers was to go out and buy a planner. The type didn’t matter, as long as it worked for you. Then, for the rest of the year (and the following year if you had that teacher, Mr. Hanley, again), you were to keep track of all your appointments, schedules, assignments and more. The purpose was to help us become better organized individuals before college. I can’t speak for anyone else in the class, but it definitely ended up working for me, and quickly became a habit that I carried over into college and then onward to the rest of my life.
In fact, at this point each year, I find myself doing the annual purchase of a new planner for the upcoming year. You don’t need anything expensive. While I’ve seen planners that are in the double digits, I frequently find mine at any $1 store. Another year, another 365 days of lists, of projects, of things to do.
Suddenly, though, I find things are changing a bit.
Sure, I’m still writing out my lists the night before of what I want to get done the following day or in the days ahead. Yes, I’m still typically piling as much into those lists as possible, as I always seem to have way too many things on the burner to handle at once. What has changed, though, is how much gets crossed off them.
What, in years past, would equate to me burning the midnight oil and running myself ragged to accomplish every single thing on the list, has dwindled. The lists are the same, but usually I average only a few things, some days only one, on those lists. A lot has happened in those times between then and now. I’ve graduated college, I’ve been in the same career field for more than five years, I’ve gotten married, and we’ve had our son. All life changing experiences that come with their own built-in responsibilities.
So it shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise to me when the “crossed off” items on my lists were becoming so few each day. Initially, it would make me annoyed, some times a little depressed. “How is it I used to accomplish so much and now feel that I accomplish so little?!” I would think to myself. I would even try to cram as much as possible into the weekends because so much time, between work and home life was eaten up during the weekdays and weeknights.
I used to think when a weekend concluded and I hadn’t crossed everything off my to-do list that time had been wasted. Now, though, I realize it’s just more time spent with my wife and son, and that’s never a waste of time.
You only live once. Don’t get caught up in the to-dos of a list that won’t stand the test of time when you can be investing in the greatest commodity you have, your loved ones.