Start With Why
I heard a quote by Amos Tversky last week that got me thinking:
“We waste years of our lives by not being able to waste hours.”
Now doesn’t that chord sound dissonant?
I just started my junior year of college and nothing makes a wing three feel more important than flitting to meetings, filling planners, barely squeezing meals in, and always waking up tired. I mean, that’s a success, right? Though, I’m learning it’s more like indoctrination. A subscription to mindless consumption that somehow always leaves us hungry, aimless, becoming production junkies assured that our fix is somehow the cure.
Thinking has always been countercultural— reflection too expensive a pastime, but like Bilbo Baggins, we “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Idleness and business are two sides of the same coin, and too often my most harried days leave me feeling less than enough. Ecclesiastes tells me I have eternity in my heart, so what happens when he’s neglected? What happens when my pursuit of temporal experience eclipses my acquaintance with the very reason breath is in my lungs? We’re left hollow. A fountain made for overflow reduced to a trickle. The answer is never easy, but it’s simple.
Maybe we’re not asked this question enough; why are you alive? Why do you do what you do, say, think? Could a lifetime of long days flow by and you never start with why? Remaining defiant in the face of flagrant dismissal of the value of choice is the war we are constantly waging with others and within ourselves. In our culture, the constant barrage of what’s urgent always supersedes the necessary. Now, I’m not telling you to abandon your 9 to 5, discard responsibility or stop attending to matters of life. But I am asking you to meditate on your motivations, to realign your priorities, and to attend to the assignment etched into your being as you were woven into existence.
The fullest lives are often the shortest ones, the ones most surrendered to their calling. The ones that were most determined to assess what their calling really was. Jesus Christ died at 33, MLK Jr. at 39, Fanny Lou Hamer at 59, Jim Elliot at 28…. They weren’t intoxicated with the opiate of our time: success. They knew climbing the ladder was irrelevant because the vulnerable are wide open in every field. As Simon Sinek articulated, great people can answer the question of why, which is never for money or profit—those are merely results, not the underlying inspiration behind our actions.
It feels so counterintuitive to acknowledge that sowing sabbath reaps a higher yield. But action preceded by careful deliberation doesn’t remove the risk, faith, creativity, or spontaneity of that movement, it fortifies it. It drives us forward, it reminds us of the reason why we endure, and what will come of our efforts.
I’m choosing to start with why. To draw the outline of my picture even if I still don’t know the colors that will fill each stroke, if only to know that what I’m working towards holds significance. Because believe it or not, we hold eternal significance. These present hours we hold as the gift they are deserve the stillness of reflection so that tomorrow can be built in accordance with our lives’ blueprints.
It’s okay if you’ve already wasted some years, waste some hours and redeem your time.