How Much Time Do You Waste Feeling Shame About How You Spend Your Time?
We have a collective obsession with the passage of time. Of what we do with our time. With using time “correctly”. With not “wasting” time.
I was talking with an acquaintance at my son’s basketball game the other night. She told me she went out to a bar with a bunch of her college friends the night before. She hadn’t seen this group of friends in awhile, and it was to celebrate a birthday. But, as a parent of young children who also has an intense job, she felt shame for wasting time going out with them. When she could have worked on a project or spent time with her kids.
From my perspective as an outsider, and someone who doesn’t even know this woman well, the idea that the evening was a waste of time felt so arbitrary to me. But the concept caught on to something in my mind. That four hours that happened in the past were labeled a waste of time. That we create these definitive rules around how we should use our time. And that using our time “wrong” is shameful. It struck a chord because I’ve heard that expression a lot. Including from myself.
Off and on for 37 years (since I was 8 years old), I wanted to write, but didn’t. As an scientist and a business person, I didn’t think I “should” spend my time writing. It wasn’t the right use of my time. But then I got older and the dream never went away. Then, I felt ashamed of myself for wasting so much time when I could have been writing all along.
At this point, I am so happy and fulfilled by writing. I’ve stopped worrying about whether it’s the right use of my time. And I’ve developed a different relationship with time. I no longer think about how much time I wasted in the past. And I am simply became grateful for how I spend my time in the present.
But it has lead me to wonder: what is our obsession with utilizing time perfectly? We believe there are rules around time. “Good” use of time. “Bad” use of time. And our use of time dictates whether we, ourselves, are “Good” or “Bad.” Our use of time creates enormous shame. Something I’d like to call Temporal Shame.
What is Temporal Shame
OK, I’ll admit it. As far as I know, I made that expression up: Temporal Shame. But I believe that it exists. This pervasive feeling that you are not a good person unless you use your time, all your time, right.
How would I define Temporal Shame? First, let’s revisit the definition of shame. Brene Brown, an expert on shame, defines it as:
The feeling that something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy.
So, in the context of our use of time, I extrapolate Temporal Shame to mean the fear that we do not use our time well enough and therefore we are unworthy. That we, and everyone else around us, see how we use our time and know that it is bad, or wrong. Or at least, worse than how other people use their time.
But, Brene Brown goes on to say:
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.
So, the ironic thing about feeling this Temporal Shame is that it keeps us from changing how we spend our time. Few people are able to shame themselves into a more productive, or fulfilling life. In fact, it’s the very opposite approach that finally kicks us in gear. The idea that maybe, possibly, we can do it. That we aren’t bad, or wrong. That we are at least good enough to take that one, first, shaky step forward.
Do you feel shame about your time too? Are you experiencing this Temporal Shame? If so, here are some thoughts about how to begin to overcome this obsession. Because once we are able to overcome this shame about how we spend our time, we can find so much more time to do the things we love and dream about. We will find the time to be present at any given time.
Consider the idea that wasted time is an opinion, not a fact
There are a few things in this world that are circumstances that everyone agrees on. The sky is blue. There is a mug on my desk. Everybody poops.
Wasting time is not an absolute circumstance. Not everyone agrees how time should be spent. When you make a decision that one way to spend your time is “good” and another is a waste, that is your opinion. But when you tell yourself that you wasted time, you’re shaming yourself about it.
Let’s take my acquaintance who went out with a group to a bar. From what I know about her, she’s an extrovert. She loves being in groups and going out in crowds. So, she decided that doing something fun, something that she enjoys, was a waste of time. Because she could be doing something more serious. Making progress on some part of her job, or spending time with her family. Doing things for other people instead.
But I would have a very different opinion on how that time was spent. I’m pretty serious, and an introvert, too. I work a lot, and when I’m not working, I’m with my family, or with one or two close friends at a time. It takes a lot to get me to go out with a group, into a crowd.
So if I spent a whole evening with a group of friends in a crowded bar. If I talked to more than two people and stayed out for more than an hour, I’d be pretty damn proud of myself and how I spent my evening. That, to me, would be time well spent.
Who is right?
And here’s the other thing. Why would something that is enjoyable be a waste of time? She wasn’t hurting anyone. Her kids were home with her husband. There were no specific emergencies at work (as far as I could tell). But she believed it wasn’t the most “productive” use of her time. When the truth is, if you can find a moment of happiness in this world, you should value it. No one should think that a pleasant or pleasurable evening is a waste.
“Too late” is an opinion too (not a fact)
This is another way that we shame ourselves about time. Particularly for those of us in midlife and beyond. We are so focused on how much time has passed without doing the thing. How can that have happened? How did the time slip away so fast? And now it’s too late. We screwed up. We are fixed, and fully formed. We need to abandon our dreams. It’s what I told myself for years about my desire to write.
Lydia Sohn wrote a beautiful article on Medium about what 90-something’s regret most. As she writes in her article:
I assumed the elderly lost their vibrancy and thirst for life. That couldn’t be further from the truth… We all have joys, hopes, fears, and longings that never go away no matter how old we get.
What does that mean? It means that too late is also an opinion. It’s never too late. You won’t stop dreaming your dream. You won’t stop wanting more, ever. Was it too late when I finally started writing at 45 years old? Some people would think it was. Some might say that it happened at the right time. I’m just happy I made the leap. I don’t dwell anymore on when I should have started. But if we can’t all agree, it means “too late” is not a fact, but a thought in your mind. It’s your 2 cents. Don’t make it worth more than that.
Beating yourself up for how you spend your time is the one, true, waste of time
So, we shame ourselves for how we spend a few hours of our day. Or, we shame ourselves for letting years pass. We create this Temporal Shame about how we use our time. And we spend hours, days, years thinking about it. What we did wrong. How we screwed up. Even if our opinion on how we spent that time is purely that: an opinion.
So I would argue that the only true waste of time is beating ourselves up for wasting time.
My acquaintance who went out with her friends. The “wasted” time was weighing on her. So what did she do after it happened? She dwelled on her shame. Instead of using that time to connect with her son on the basketball court, or do some work, or even make a to-do list for the following day. She was holding on to a choice from the past. A reality that had already happened. When there was nothing more to do about it. What would her shame today do to change yesterday?
As Byron Katie says:
When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.
Because so often, Temporal Shame comes up after the time has been spent. Once you can’t do anything about a certain stretch of time. But the way we’ve spent our time in the past is the past. There is no way to change that. Whether that time spent was great or horrible, perfect or wasteful no longer matters. We can learn from how we spent our time in the past, so that we can apply those lessons in the future. But feeling shame about it only keeps us from doing so.
As I said, I no longer look upon all the years that I didn’t write with shame. It doesn’t serve me. And in some ways, it’s been a great help. I have experienced a lot in my life. Been through many seasons. Maybe waiting until last year to start writing was the perfect timing. The truth is, I’ll never know with absolute certainty if those years were wasted, or if they were building toward this moment.
So I’d ask the same for you. Instead of focusing on how you wasted time in the past. Spending your time thinking about how “good” you were with your time, or “bad”. Why not reclaim that time that you would have used to beat yourself up. And instead spend that time in a way that serves you today?