Don’t Waste Your Time!

It may be shocking to some of you, but I was driving on the freeway the other day just before peak hour and, surprisingly, there was an angry driver in one of the cars behind me. Traffic was moving steadily, but as I glanced in my rear-view mirror, I observed that the car behind me was riding my tail. To my amusement, I watched the individual behind the wheel of the car behind me absolutely losing his mind. My lane was full, and as we were streaming past the traffic in the other lanes, I ignored him.

Interestingly though, when I eventually changed into another lane, his bad day did not stop. The car behind him began tailgating him just as he had been tailgating me. Oh boy, he was mad. Eventually, he changed lanes and came to sit behind me again. I watched him intermittently for the next few kms. Every aspect of his mannerisms expressed frustration and annoyance. Now, maybe he had good reason to be upset and, perhaps this was a one-off. Yet as I drove on, I could not help but notice how many of the drivers had unhappiness and frustration written on their faces.

Now, we have all been in their shoes, and they just as we could not help having to commute on the freeway. Yet it still struck me as a great waste of life to spend one’s time angry. The thing is that being angry is often a choice. As the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, wrote, “It is not things in themselves that trouble us, but our opinions of things”. Now, I am by no means blameless on this front, and there are definitely times when I lose my cool.

But I wondered as I drove down the busy highway if there was not a better way. Frustrations are inescapable; if we didn’t have to drive, we’d be on the train or bus or working from home. In each case, we’d find things that frustrated us about our situation. Instead, what if we accepted that certain unpleasant things had to be endured and instead looked for things we could do to make the unavoidable better?

Instead of spending your commute cursing your ill luck for having to work, why not use the time productively? You could listen to a book, podcast or a series of lectures. You could call your parents or partner (via hands-free), or you could even just ponder the universe. Most of us commute for at least an hour a day. That is about two hundred and sixty hours or ten full days a year. This may not seem like much, but over a working life, it is likely to mean that almost a year and a half of your life will have been spent on your commute. Instead of being angry or unhappy, you could have read perhaps 800 more books than you would have otherwise. Of course, this time wastage is not limited to our commutes. We waste time doing the washing, doing the dishes or other housework, doing the food shopping, etc. Why not put that time to use? Our lives are short; let’s use them well.

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