Whatever philosophical reasoning we engage in around the issue of time itself, the main issue here is that our perceptions of time help to create expectations that affect our ability to navigate in a balanced, productive, peaceful, and satisfying way. To be effective, we need to ensure that those expectations are both “real” and “realistic.”
So at this point we’re going to ask you to ask yourself some hard questions about your expectations and thinking patterns. We suggest you take time to think deeply about these questions. The more seriously you approach them and the more deeply you explore your expectations, the more helpful the material in this chapter will be.
As we’ve noted before, frustration is a function of expectation. So if you spend a lot of time feeling frustrated, take a hard look at your expectations. Do you expect to be able to do more than you can reasonably do? Do you expect more results than are realistic for the effort you’re putting in? Is your main frustration at work or at home—or in the conflict you feel in your ability to handle both? Is there a particular part of work or home life that is especially frustrating?
If you want to change the level of frustration, you obviously have two options: change your ability to do (so you can do faster or better), or change the expectation. Or, you could do some of both. Your navigational intelligence can help you to determine which approach is best.
Do you find yourself wondering if the way you see yourself and your situation is really “realistic”—or if it’s a limiting view, keeping you from achieving what you could achieve?
To some extent, learning to set and achieve realistic goals is a lot like playing golf.You decide where you want the ball to go. Sometimes you hit it short and sometimes you hit it long. As you watch where your balls land, you learn to estimate how far you can hit the ball with a particular club. And as you practice, you learn which club to select and how to hit the ball the desired distance more and more often.
On the other hand, there are times when you feel inspired to set goals you’ve never dreamed of before—dreams to survive a POW camp in Vietnam like Admiral Stockdale, to climb Mount Everest like Erik Weihenmayer, or to do things you never imagined you could do.
So what do you do? How do you know when you have the reach that’s right for you? How do you know what you can realistically expect of yourself?
Consult your navigational intelligence. Consider carefully: Where are your goals coming from? Are they minimal “get by’s,” escape daydreams, or inspiration from the best within you? Should you figure out how to increase them, let them go and move on, or focus your energy on developing realistic plans to achieve them? Answering these questions requires pondering, deep personal honesty, and experience. Bottom line, the question is: Am I using my time in the wisest possible way?
Do you find yourself living for the weekends or vacations when you can “crash”? Do you tend to think in terms of “when I graduate” or “when this job is over” or “when my children are grown”? You may want to think about what it is that keeps you from completely immersing yourself in and enjoying the present moment. What is it in your thinking that causes you to wish away the richness of experiencing life as it is?
In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, the main character, Emily, is allowed to come back to earth after her death and observe the events of one day in her life. Choosing her 12th birthday, she returns to her past with the added ability not only to live it, but to see herself and others as she does. She is overwhelmed to see how people trudge through their daily routine, blind to the vision she now sees of the value of each moment of time. She laments,“It goes so fast.We don’t have time to look at one another . . . Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
You may want to consider what expectations you’re living with that may be keeping you from working to create balance in your everyday life and from fully enjoying every moment of time.
Are you living with the expectation that life should move smoothly along as you plan it, with no surprises, no interruptions? If so, you may want to ask yourself: Is there any justification for that expectation in the real world?
Think about it. How many times have you actually been able to chart a course or plan a day and simply carry it out—with no interruptions caused by unanticipated challenges or opportunities ...or no unexpected consequences from ignoring them? Some jobs, such as customer service, emergency medicine, and parenting, primarily consist of responding to interruptions. An acquaintance of ours who was very busy was once handed this note by a friend:
When you are exasperated by interruptions, try to remember that their very frequency may indicate the valuableness of your life. Only the people who are full of help and strength are burdened by other people’s needs. The interruptions which we chafe at are the credentials of our indispensability.The greatest condemnation that anybody could incur—and it is a danger to guard against—is to be so independent, so unhelpful, that nobody ever interrupts us and we are left comfortably alone.
Consider carefully: Your attitude toward interruptions may be at the root of much of your frustration in life.
Checking off to do’s has become a great source of satisfaction in our society.And it’s certainly great to get things done. But is it your expectation that those checks that mark off all your doing are somehow your validation as a human being? What happens if suddenly you can’t do what’s on your list? What if an accident or age or some unexpected priority keeps you from doing? Or what if you do check everything off that list, but your spouse is upset, your kids are sullen, and your coworkers are offended because of the way you’ve done it?
Check your expectation. Doing may not be all there is—and maybe not even the most important thing there is—in validating your personal worth.
Are you always trying to do more than is realistic? Are you using a machine-gun approach because you’re not confident you can hit the target with a rifle?
Often, we mistake busyness for success. We get a sense of pseudosecurity from running around solving crises. We think if we’re incredibly busy, we must be valuable. But that’s not necessarily true. Most crisis-oriented running around comes from “urgency addiction” and a lack of clarity around “Job One.”
Other such behavior comes from fear.
Perhaps we fear that what we’re doing now may not be valued and we may be out of a job, so we get so many backup plans going, there’s no way we can keep up with them all. Or maybe we’re afraid because we have no margin; if what we’re doing now doesn’t work, we have no savings, no reserves to see us through until we’re able to find something else. Of course, we need backup earning plans. But if we get too many things going and growing, they soon overtake family time, personal time, and life balance. In addition, the fragmentation will probably exacerbate the problem because we won’t be able to give Job One the focus it needs for success.
Generally, it’s better to focus on a few things and to do them well. Your navigational intelligence can help you decide what those few things should be.
When you look in the mirror, do you somehow feel that, as hard as you try, your efforts will never be enough? Ask yourself: Enough for what? Enough to immediately change a teenager’s behavior? Enough to change your own past? Enough to fix a struggling economy, stop the threat of terrorism, or avoid a war? No, your efforts may never be enough to do those things. And if you live with an unexamined expectation that they will, you’re going to be disappointed.
But there are things your efforts are sufficient to accomplish— things within your circle of influence, such as working to become the kind of person you want to be. What are your expectations regarding those things? Do you believe that if you focus your effort on what you can affect, you can have a sense of well-being and joy in the journey?
If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, you may want to spend some time reflecting on the past. Is there a chance those feelings may stem from parents or others who never approved of or valued you? Perhaps it’s time to examine those feelings, to let go of them and move on. Through thoughtful evaluation and effort, change is possible. As you come to clarity and personal responsibility concerning your own potential and worth, you’ll be better able to invest time in doing the aligned, high leverage things that will help you fulfill it.
Are you so worn-out by “pipe dream” promises or burned out by experience that you don’t truly believe it’s possible to balance work and family in your life? Or do you believe that somebody else could do it . . . but not you?
Remember Admiral Stockdale and Eric Weihenmayer. If they had given up on what must have seemed at times to be an impossible hope, there would have been no success stories to tell. Also remember that the kind of balancing we’re talking about is not an impossible dream; it is a “real” expectation. It’s not a “mechanical” balance; it’s not running the bases fast enough to touch them all. It’s a living dynamic equilibrium. And learning how to create it is a process of doing and becoming. You have to work for it; but it’s something you can trust in, believe in. And with good navigational intelligence, you can grow in your ability to create it each day.
Hopefully, these questions have helped you to gain insight into your expectations and some realities around the issue of time. In addition, we suggest you ask yourself two more questions and, again, that you think seriously about your answers:
If there were a fly on the wall watching how I spend my time today, and his only criteria for judgment is my behavior—he doesn’t know my intentions; he can’t hear the words I say—what would he say matters most in my life?
If everything my children know about time management is learned from me, what kind of adults are they going to be?
Your ability to manage your time well is absolutely critical—to your own personal happiness and well-being, to the quality of your contribution at home and on the job, and to those who watch you and learn from you. With that in mind, we’d like to share a basic paradigm, a way of seeing that will significantly impact the way you deal with time matters.