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The Unanswerable, Philosophical Quandries of Time

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Time is a fascinating idea. It is infinite, yet limited. It can crawl like a turtle, or race like a hare. Scientific, but human-made in its perception. Time is relative, which means something very significant that I will never fully understand no matter how hard I try.

There are so many decisions regarding time: how to use it efficiently, how to enjoy our time, how long to bake cookies for, how to respect others’ time, deciding if driving 37 minutes to work and sitting there for 8 hours and then driving 37 minutes back is a good use of it, figuring out if there’s ever enough of it, wondering if can we get more? It’s overwhelming. Time is the single-most thought about subject in my brain, and I can’t seem to shake the cloud of perplexity it brings upon me daily.

The most unnerving part about this invisible commodity is the lack of clear answers to any of the above questions. In some situations, time can be such a superficial topic. Your friend asks you what time you will get to their house. You say you‘ll be there at 2:40. Boom. That’s that.

In other situations, time begs much more existential questions. Questions of what we should strive to accomplish in our miniscule amount time on Earth. Questions of what the meaning of life is. Is time a personal possession or a communal commodity? Is it both?

I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, the most important (and most universally applied) question is: What do I want to accomplish with my time? It’s a serious head spinner when you get down to answering it. On my commute to and from working 8.5 hours per day, while cooking dinner every night, while cleaning the house, while watching TV, while writing — I am always thinking “Is this the best use of my time?”

On the other hand, I know putting in hard work now may pay off in the future. Maybe if I use my time to become successful now, I can have more of my time to do things I want later on.

On the other other hand, I know life is short and things happen. Time can be cut tragically short. You can see the dilemma.


I oscillate between two schools of thought when it comes to my personal time. 1. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to learn everything. 2. I disregard that fact, and continue to make a list of all the skills, knowledge, and traveling I intend to acquire in my life.

A few years ago I made a Facebook post about this dilemma and I think it will always hold true in my life:

“Coming to terms with the fact that I will never be able to learn everything. And by everything, I literally mean everything in the world. Every book I read produces a page full of topics mentioned in said book that I want to learn more about…and I’ve only just scratched the surface of history. How do I fit in time to learn, in-depth, other disciplines, such as astronomy, foreign languages, psychology, cooking, biology, how to be a spy, literature, new instruments, etc…? Is there a career entitled “professional learner”? Because at a measly 22 years old, that’s about the only job I seem to be finding interest in, and it’s not even real. I love my brain but hate the impossibility of ever being able to use it to my definition of its full potential. “

This alarm clock split down the middle represents the complicated value and decisions regarding time.
Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

In essence, decisions regarding time are born from the constant struggle of weighing the value of activities against each other. Thinking about the value of time is one thing in each of our own personal context. It’s a whole ridiculously more complicated thing when it comes to the value of time in a more worldly sense. Which begs the question…

Are we obligated, as members of a particular community, to dedicate some of our own time to bettering society? What, in the world, is important enough or “worth it” enough to dedicate some of our own personal time to? They’re big questions, and everyone probably has their own opinionated answer to them. I, however, am torn — right down the middle.

I often think about this in the sense of the climate crisis. Within my means, I try to not be wasteful, limit plastic consumption, take care of my surroundings, etc. However, I could do more if I spent more money and time to combat global warming. Of course I want to live as sustainably as possible, and once I have a more established and stable career, I plan on doing so. But, should I feel compelled to consciously sacrifice my personal wants, goals, and time for this cause?


And then there’s time dedicated to other people — another tough one. I am someone that prefers to spend time alone and with my significant other. Meeting or being around new people is not something I necessarily enjoy. I love my family, and of course cherish seeing them when I can. But, if I had my way, I’d live other-people-free for 90% of the year.

So, when I’m stuck in a situation with people I don’t want to be around, I can’t help but come back to the question of what my time is worth. Is it worth it to try to meet and connect with new people since there’s only a slim chance that a friendship will actually be established? Is it wrong to weigh the value of how long it takes to make human connections with the other things I could be doing with that time?

Forget new people — what about with already close friends and family members? Is it recklessly selfish to think this way? Or is it just plain reality?In my experience, “just plain reality” usually is people being recklessly selfish.

In the end, our time is truly ours to spend how we choose. Although this fact of life doesn’t resolve any of the above haunting questions for me, it does remind me of one thing — I am responsible for how I spend my time. If I spend it bettering the world, that’s on me. I could spend it learning everything ever, that’s on me. If I spend it lazily, wastefully, working to live, or devoid of human connection, that’s also on me.

I just hope I can make the right decision.

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