Our time in this life is priceless. No matter who we are, we only have a limited amount of time on this earth, regardless of our wealth, fame, or prestige. Time is even more valuable than money, because once it’s lost there’s no way we can regain it. The sooner we become mindful of the value of time, the more likely we are to spend our time in ways that are beneficial to us. But how do we decide what’s good for us, or what will bring us happiness?
In the wise words of Carl Sandburg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” We need to look deeply within ourselves to begin to understand what will give us joy, as distinguished from what others expect from us, because what we believe will make us happy can sometimes be vastly different from what our family and friends think we should do with our lives.
So first we must be completely honest with ourselves, because we are the only ones in the driver’s seat, and no one else can make the crucial decisions that determine the course of our lives. This doesn’t give us license to be selfish and disregard others’ feelings. It doesn’t sanction blowing all our money on a night of gambling, just because we think it’s fun, regardless of the lasting consequences. A wise use of time is much like a wise use of money. And it’s wise to invest both toward a fulfilling and meaningful future, rather than limit our thinking to immediate gratification.
While we all need to get that ice-cream sundae on occasion, or buy those expensive designer shoes, when we make a habit of spending our money on temporal luxuries, we find we have nothing left at the end of the month for the necessities of life, like gasoline or rent. It’s the same with time as with money. If we fritter our days and months away with little or no thought for the future, we waste time that we could use creating the best possible life for ourselves.
Especially when we’re young, we may believe we have forever to worry about how we spend our time, or how our actions impact the rest of our lives. But our youth is the perfect time to think about what will make us happy in the long term, and begin to do something about it. When we’re young we’re surrounded by opportunities, many of which won’t wait for us forever. While the adage “It’s never too late,“ holds a great deal of truth—in that it’s never too late to go to school, change careers, or marry the one we love—it can be more difficult to accomplish important goals when we postpone them, and besides, we can never regain the time we lost in evading responsibility. Author and filmmaker Ben Hecht wrote, “Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away.” Do you remember a time when you watched an opportunity slip away? If so, how did it make you feel? I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’ve lost opportunities. For me, it felt like regret for not taking action about something I cared about when the time was right.
No one else can tell you what the best actions are when you’re faced with a particular opportunity, because they’re different for each of us, but you won’t know either, until you focus on what is meaningful for you at this moment that will likely still be meaningful for you tomorrow and the next day. I know, no one can predict the future. Things change. But you need to develop trust in yourself and be true to yourself in making the best choice at any moment. You don’t need to make boring predictable choices to avoid risk. In the words of publisher and author William Feather, “One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” The best gage to use is to make the choices that you feel passionate about, the ones that will hold your attention for an extended period of time.
Wherever you are in life, and whatever your age, opportunities are to be seized upon, that is, if they’re real. If one seems to good to be true, it’s wise to investigate it, but don’t let one slip away that you know is something you really want and seems within your grasp, even it if takes work to attain it. The things worth having in life are worth working for. And true happiness comes out of the self-respect we begin to feel when we take responsibility for our own lives. Author P.D. James made this astute observation: “God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.”
The real fun and excitement is the adventure of our lives, not just the rest stops along the way. When you keep your eyes open for opportunities that are meaningful to you—and put your heartfelt enthusiasm into seeking them—you’ll discover they’re all around you. Some people call them coincidences. Others call them miracles. They may be both, but they’re often best appreciated when you take an active and selective part in making them happen.
There may be times when opportunities don’t need our input at all, but we still need to be there to enjoy them. In the words of inspirational writer William Arthur Ward, “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.”
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™