Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happiness, Time, and Money

Funny how life works out. I have more time this month than last month. Not because I found how to sneak more hours into the day (wouldn't that be helpful to many people?) but because I am no longer earning money--I lost my job.

When we have plenty of time, we have little money. When we have plenty of money, we have little time. I'm not sure which makes us happier. In fact, I think I prefer the time over money and I think my husband misses the money a lot more.

My husband (also unemployed) is rightfully concerned about our lack of income. There are things we want to do which we simply can't afford to do right now. This is frustrating and, frankly, worrying. When we were both employed, we were making more money than we ever had together. We paid off our debts and put some money in savings. We are in a much safer place than we might otherwise have been at this moment, because we were careful.

(We had both been unemployed at the same time over a year ago, with debt and no money in savings and that was truly painful so when we both got hired at companies last year, I vowed to pay off the credit card and put money in savings. Hurrah, foresight. Here we are again, but with a better position).

If we are careful and no emergencies come up, we might make it for quite awhile. Of course, his car is starting to make weird noises and probably needs to be taken in to the shop, and our cat is sick and the vet has been expensive, but.....still, we are pretty lucky.

I'm happy about the increase in time we have. Sure, I'm worried about the lack of money but I really hated that job and I really love spending time with my husband. I'm seeing the bright side to our situation right now.

Strange, though, I have so many more hours to do what I want--and I think I'm getting even less accomplished. How do activities swell up to fill our days? This week went by so quickly and the three or four things I wanted to accomplish still are before me, not behind me. It is some sort of weird goldfish principle with time.

So I face two paradoxes:

Apparently, you can have time or money, but seldom both at once. Either way, you will find it hard to do the things you want to do.

The more time you have, the more you will fill it with small tasks and you won't actually get more accomplished.

I'm happy to have more time but unhappy that I don't seem to be making better use of it. Also, some things we wanted to do when we had time take money so they are out. When we do have money again, we won't have the time because it will take awhile to build up vacation time. Catch 22?

Do you find yourself filling your time with emails, blog reading, and small household tasks and never getting to the important things on your list? If so, what tips can you give me? And is there any solution to the money/time paradox??

-Beautiful Photo from ToniVC's photostream


  1. Hi

    Okay, you could try this:

    If you get to the end of your first month (28th April, yes?) and you still aren't getting round to the big things on your list, one suggestion is to take the next month and -

    Do nothing.

    Just switch off, take all the pressure off yourself. Be very kind to yourself while so doing. Put the to-do lists away in a drawer (and lock it). Do only what you feel like doing in the moment, plus whatever you need to do to sustain life, plus your volunteer commitments (assuming you can't just leave them for a month).

    If you worked full time for a year, and spent several years in grad school before that, and now have a lot of big new goals simmering away, I'd hazard that you might actually, underneath everything, be incredibly tired.

    So a different perspective on your current habits of procrastinating and spending the day on trivial things, is that they're your body and mind (and spirit too, if you're okay with that, but fine if not) finding a way of recovering from these pressures by making you have some no-brain down time.

    From what I've experienced, of myself and people close to me, who've either left jobs or been made redundant, and have then gone on to change their life path in some fundamental way, I don't know anyone who just stepped straight out of the old job and into the brand new them, without passing through a period of often uncomfortable limbo and transition. We all think we should be able to jump straight from one activity to another activity, but it never quite happens like that.

    So don't be too hard on yourself for being how you are now - it's a common reaction to the circumstances you're in.

    Taking a month off probably sounds very scary - if only because of the fear-facing element. I only suggest that amount of time because you are shaping your year in month-long blocks. You could try less, you may need more.

    However long you choose, you know that it's not forever. It's important to keep a sense that it's finite - that when you've taken that time out and reaped the benefits of it, you will take the lists out of the drawer again and return to devoting the best of your time to clear goals and purposeful work.

    Also, if doing nothing suddenly makes you feel like doing something on your list - go for it, absolutely.

    The answer to the time / money paradox is pretty simple. You work out what you love to fill your time with, then you work out a way to make money from that.

    Making that statement work in one's own life is the hard part. But it's always a possibility.

  2. I hear what you are saying, Astral Cat. It does sound rather scary and probably not possible for me. I'm not a person who can take time off on purpose. I can be the one who goofs off while I have a bunch of "should"s sitting around making me feel guilty but that's not the same thing at all.

    I'll think about this some more.

    As for the answer to the time/money paradox being "simple"--well, I think it is a lot easier to say than to do.

    However, I did have a job interview the other day (first one in a year) and we'll see. It is the sort of job which would allow me to do stuff I love, I think. I've applied to be a high school English teacher. :)

    I think that this sort of work, along with writing a novel, and pursuing my volunteer work and collections could be the sort of thing I've been looking for in my life. Keeping my fingers crossed....

  3. I really hope the teaching job works out for you, if it's right for you now :)

    I totally understand if the option of doing nothing isn't appropriate for you at the moment. It's just something to consider, if you ever really feel stuck in a rut of trying to accomplish a lot of things that just aren't getting done, no matter what strategies you are trying.

    Also, I think it's great if you find you're able to combine doing a lot of different things, like a full-time job and writing a novel. A lot of people manage this successfully - indeed for first novels it's often the only way!

    One thing I think about a lot, is how far we can successfully discipline ourselves to work in a certain way - say, writing a novel for an hour each evening after a day at work - and how far we have to accept our own energy patterns and inclinations. For example, when I was an academic (which was my life for 20 years, until I quit for good last year), I could never write papers in small bursts between the other demands on my time. I needed stretches of empty time in which to write. Yet many of my colleagues were able to work differently, and wrote their papers in short sessions between preparing classes.

    Part of my journey in accepting myself more has been observing and learning to respect how I tend to do things, and what my limitations are. For a long time I made myself thoroughly miserable by nagging myself that I 'should' be working to a certain pattern. It took me a long time to figure out that, even though I labelled myself as lazy and inefficient, I was actually doing okay professionally.

    Currently I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do nothing. For me this is a conscious choice I needed to make, partly because I was seriously burned out and still tending to push myself too hard, and also because I don't know (or won't allow myself to know) what it is that I truly want to do next. What I've learned in the first six months of doing nothing is that I have to keep fighting feelings of guilt and unworthiness, by reminding myself of what I went through to deserve to be where I am now (which isn't forever). Like you, my stress and anxiety manifested as stomach illness, so I really sympathise with how miserable and painful that is. I also have to be mindful of unconsciously filling my time with new activities that re-create the obligations of my working life, so I find myself with a whole new set of 'shoulds' on a to do list that aren't what I actually want to be doing.

    I guess all this is a roundabout way of trying to explain why I offer some of the suggestions I do. Reading your blog, a lot of your experiences and reflections touch a nerve in me; at the same time, of course, you have to find the way through them that is best for you.

    Re the time / money paradox: one book I've leafed through but not read properly yet is Nick Williams' The Work We Were Born To Do. One of the issues he tackles is the feeling that we have to choose either work we love or work that earns a good wage. He invites us to challenge this by reflecting on our attitudes to money and happiness, how far they've been shaped by our upbringing and surroundings, and how far it's in our power to change how we think about work and money. Again, I've not looked into this myself in depth, but a lot of the good self-development stuff around money seems to cover similar ground.

    Fingers crossed for you with the teaching job ...

  4. Wow, Astral Cat. As usual your comments are insightful and powerful. Also, it feels like we have a lot in common. Amazing what the internet does, to bring two people to be able to talk about such issues together.

    I really appreciate your thoughts. Obviously I am trying to work out what will work for me. Don't know yet.

    So far I can't say that I've written a novel better while with a job or without because I'm really bad about making time for it either way. Still, the plot compels me to keep going back to it and I really want to finish it and get it published.

    I've got to think about what you've been saying a bit more. I feel lucky to have the indulgence of being able to consider my life like this. I recognize not everyone gets this privilege at 41 to examine herself and her goals and try to redirect herself to a better life.

  5. Thanks for this Real Me. I feel very grateful to have discovered your blog. Reading your posts and responding to you is helping me to work out a lot of things about my own situation, as well as how to engage properly with what's working for you. It's fascinating to discover someone of the same age (nearly), with some similar things going on, who's also seeking to reflect consciously upon her life.


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