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.
The large white flakes fell outside the dining room windows a day before the official start of Spring, leaving the backyard, the neighborhood, and many across the northeast blanketed in a fresh coat of snow.
Bob Dylan’s gravely voice sang that “Times, They are a Changin’,” as my son sat, propping himself up on all fours atop a white quilted blanket made by one of his grandmothers.
Before Dylan was Paul Simon with “Kathy’s Song,” both making me lose myself in the sight of this little man now getting prepped for bath time.
Times, they are a changin’ indeed, and I don’t quite know why I can’t shake it. My entire life, I’ve thought so much about the passage of time, not necessarily living in the moment nearly as much as I think I should have.
When I was a very little kid, I took a field trip to a museum. There, even at an elementary age, I was fascinated by a series of paintings by Thomas Cole called “The Voyage of Life,” displaying the various stages we each go through, up against the backdrop of an ever darkening sky as our life continues. I’m not saying that’s what it did it, but it was certainly a series of images that have stayed with me to this day.
How did my parents do it? How do they handle even now, having children who are once these little cherub-faced angels, only to have them grow up to become people?
As bath time progresses and Dylan switches over to Billy Joel bellowing out the lament of a Piano Man, the snow continues to blanket the yard, like it has years before and will for years to come.
I don’t know where any of us will be as I look out to that fallen snow and think of the years that will follow, but I know I’ll look back and feel that they went by too fast.
Will I see my reflection in the glass against the sheet of white and see a life lived or a life spent philosophizing on how quickly it all changes?
Maybe a little of both. Who knows?
I hope it’s a life that found a balance between the two, savoring the moments to their fullest because of an awareness that they won’t last forever. I truly hope so.
Only time will tell.
I had a very jarring moment recently that out of nowhere caused me to start thinking about mortality. Notably, my own.
Throughout the course of my life, I’ve rarely given it thought, or if I did, only in dark hours of sadness I’d care not to revisit. For the most part, though, I’ve been susceptible to what many youth are – that feeling that you will go on forever; that there’s always tomorrow; always next month; always a few years down the road.
It allowed me to cultivate an ongoing sense of forward vision, always looking to what project, what script, what new story, what task, was coming down the line that could be tackled or scheduled in.
There was always time.
Then, on a recent weekend, I was sitting with my son on my lap, now almost eight months old. He smiled at me and I looked into his eyes and realized, this moment I’m experiencing was one my father and me no doubt had, and his father before him and so on and so forth.
It was in that simple moment of a smile that I realized this is the circle of life at work. This little guy is the next generation. He will follow me as I followed my father, etc. But in that moment, staring into his beautiful eyes and having him smile back at me, I suddenly realized, truly, for the first time, I am not going to live forever. That someday, he might be bouncing a baby upon his knee and I may be older, and eventually as that circle continues, I may no longer be here.
It was an eye opener. I wish I had something quite profound to wrap this all in a bow with, but I don’t. In fact, I’m still processing the feelings it brought about.
What I do know, though, is that it just proved as one more example to me to get up and live life. There are things we can’t always control. Unless we’re independently wealthy, you know what, we have to get up and go to work each day. We have to do housework, we have to do grocery shopping, we have to repair things when they’re broken.
But that makes the time in between all the more precious. Whether it’s getting out, going for a walk and experiencing the world around you, whether it’s sitting under a tree with a good book, or whether it’s just telling your parents or your child you love them and spending time with them, DO IT.
Despite what you think, you won’t have the chances forever.
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.
About a month to go.
Seriously? As I type that first sentence, I just can’t help but ask myself, has 34 weeks really gone by that quickly? Why has it taken me this long to finally sit down and put my thoughts to page? My wife and mother in law suggested writing about the process of fatherhood to be months ago, yet, here I am at 34 weeks before I even typed out a single word. If this is how far behind I am on writing about it, how far behind am I going to be when the kid actually gets here?
These are the thoughts that went swimming through my brain the minute I started thinking about this tonight. It’s just how my mind works. Always a handful of questions, always doubting what I didn’t accomplish or why I didn’t do it sooner. It makes me worried for what kind of a father I’m going to be.
I sit up a lot at night and get lost in my thoughts. I wonder what are child will be like. Will it be a boy or a girl? Will they take after Meg or myself? Will they want to read comic books or go to a baseball game? Then it’s not long before my mind goes to a darker line of questioning that’s just downright frightening. Will they a good person? Will they be kind to others? To animals? What kind of friends will they have? How will they be influenced? Will we live in this small house forever? Where else could we possibly live? What kind of role models we be for the child? Will they even care?
You see what I mean. I thought getting cats made me a worrier. The prospect of another human being that is going to grow into a adult one day, a living breathing member of society, is just plain frightening, and loaded with questions that I don’t have answers to.
And now there’s only four weeks to go and I feel woefully unprepared for this.
Sure, we’ve been taking classes to understand the birthing process. We’ve been, little by little, getting things done around the house – putting shelves up in the nursery closet, assembling the crib, painting a dresser and putting it in the nursery. Tiny steps towards the little one’s arrival.
But yet, I keep having this nagging feeling that I’m supposed to be doing more. It haunts me, this feeling that, if I don’t have x y and z done in plenty of time for this baby’s first step into the house that I’m starting them, and us as a family off on the wrong foot.
It’s because of that feeling that I feel I wasted the first 8 months of this pregnancy. I was so busy crossing things off of lists and running around to make sure “things were done” that I never stopped to take in and appreciate what is going on – the life that is being created and the family that is being created. Now, there’s only one month to go before that child is here and our lives are never again the same. And yet, it’s taken me all this time to stop and realize it, leaving me with four weeks to cherish it while it is here.
You only get one first. Don’t waste it. Take the time to stop, slow down, and appreciate it.