To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Time and the wasting of it

The inspiration for the title of this article is credited to my friend and Editor-in-Chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Cooper Gottfried ’25. 


A week before I had left campus for summer break, I booked an office hours appointment with my advisor. I had booked the appointment with the intention of getting his suggestions for a scholarship I could use for a project I was working on for a colleague of his, but, as is often the case, by the end of the appointment, I left with more than merely recommended reading. 


Working under the assumption that most of my readership are Brandeisians, I have taken the liberty to presume that most of you are fairly studious (and that is putting it kindly), chronically over-involved on campus, and have a protracted case of I-am-not-doing-enough syndrome. In my view, these habits are all microcosms of a much larger crisis in confidence that our generation has with its relationship to the work it thinks it is doing. Indulge me in all that follows. 


Beginning with the so-called crisis in confidence; what I mean by this is that I think a lot of us wrestle with the feeling that the work we are doing is somehow insufficient in helping us reach our professional goals. I think that many of us have some vague image in our minds of what the peak of our professional lives looks like. Although I do think that this image is constantly being revisited, revised and remains ever vague and abstract in its nature, I think many of us rely on this image a great deal. As Plato reminds us, this image, or form as he would have understood it, is a blueprint that keeps us focused and enables us to reach our goals. 


I think that many of us believe—for reasons that I have not entirely identified—that the time and energy we dedicate to our extracurriculars, being of employed or voluntary nature, does not  contribute in meaningful ways to this professional end. In my mind, what logically follows from this belief is a feeling of deep unsettlement. A plaguing sense which infects the mental calculations that determine how it is that we allocate our time and to which activities we choose to dedicate that time to. I think many of us struggle with feeling—though, importantly not thinking—that the time we are dedicating to the activities we participate in is not enough to achieve our goals.


We are convinced that to reach our goals, we need to be doing more. Always more, and never enough. And so, the question(s) becomes, how do I create more time? How do I do more? Both of which are, to be sure, absurd questions. Firstly, one cannot merely conjure more hours in a day, and secondly, given how little sleep we get and the length of our CVs before we have reached the age of 25, I think it is safe to assume that we are doing enough. And yet, these are unsatisfactory answers, even to myself, and I wrote these responses. Evidently, there seems to be a logical disconnect between what we feel to be the case and what we think or implicitly know to be true. 


In the aforementioned meeting with my advisor, he seemed to isolate this discrepancy. In response to a comment I had made, comprised of something to the effect of, “I don’t know if I am spending my time in ways in which I could,” my astute and blunt advisor said, “Gonny, you just gotta go out there and waste time.” 


In response, I was inclined to spit back, “respectfully, my good sir, one cannot afford to simply ‘waste time’ in this economy,” but for reasons likely contingent to my dignity, I withheld the comment.


All jest aside, what am I supposed to do with this? How am I supposed to “waste time” if time is a nonrenewable resource and I have no guarantee that my investment of it in various things is worthwhile? How am I supposed to waste time if I feel as though I am constantly running out of it? Moreover, the wasting of time ordinarily does not feel particularly satisfying—now does it. And is the gaining of satisfaction—or fulfillment or happiness or whichever sentiment you are inclined to insert here—not what my advisor’s advice was really urging me to derive from the time I waste?


It seems perfectly rational in my mind to understand the wasting of time as a negative thing. Afterall, our society is obsessed with maximizing every living and breathing second of the day. Every minute, hour, day, week and year must be utilized to the fullest extent to produce something worthwhile; and of course, to then sell the fruit of that production in the market for a price used to fulfill a commercial desire. I think that our generation has been conditioned by social forces much larger than our mere selves to understand time that does not (immediately and innately) produce a commercial product as time not worth wasting. 


Hence, given the economization of the time we do have, it would seem only natural that our whole generation is unsettlingly insecure about how it utilizes its time. The things we are doing do not feel like enough because how could they ever be when, of course, not everything one does with one’s time could immediately and innately produce commercial items. 


Ah ha: there it is. The real hang up lies in the death of the noncommercial hobby. Ironically, the very things that we were counseled to list on our college applications to make us appear more palatable, attractive, and interesting as candidates are the source of the sense of wastefulness our generation wrestles with. It is frustratingly paradoxical. And this is exactly what exasperates me most about the notion that I should just go out into the world and waste my time. If I do so, yes, I will be more fulfilled or happy or whatever; but I will be all of those things and still feel as though I have not utilized my time in ways that I should … or could. Ultimately, I must endure through life—with my time used both productively and unproductively—and somehow be content with this existence. 


Because bearing truth is a painful act, maybe the most non-utterly depressing way to understand this is to regard the act of wasting time as one of sticking-it-to-commercial-culture. A rebellion of sorts against the institutions of hyper-productivity. Although this may appear reactive and perhaps even childish upon first read, I am not convinced that it entirely is. Yes, the act of sticking-it is reactive in its nature and rebellion against the institutions of culture is among the most adolescent responses one could imagine. However, in rebellion lies something critical to our collective reckoning with the de-economization of our time; rebellion is a joint act. 


In an often-quoted phrase on rebellion, the French-Algerian writer, Albert Camus, writes that “I rebel—therefore we exist.” Camus’s construction of rebellion has two prongs. Firstly, rebellion is innately social. We do not rebel in isolation. When an individual rebels, they do so on behalf of a group. Even if the rebel, herself, does not recognize her act of rebellion as acting on anyone else’s account but her own, her action is collective in its nature. 


The second prong of Camus’s construction of rebellion is that rebellion affirms human life and, therefore, the nature of our absurd existence. I will spare you from the details that describe what exactly Camus meant by mankind’s “absurd” existence, but just know that man’s existence bears a central contradiction: that our life is utterly void of any objective meaning, and yet, all man searches for in his life is meaning. For Camus, the absurd is this paradox, from which he believes we can derive meaning. By acknowledging there is no meaning, and still searching for it, we affirm that our existence is valuable, and to Camus (and his followers), that has been and will always be, enough. 


I have just discussed two paradoxes: one which concerns the nature of noncommercial hobbies and the other concerning the nature of our existence. I think that the latter helps us reckon with the former. I think that by rebelling against the sociocultural pressure to commercialize our hobbies, we affirm their value to our lives. And maybe that could be or should be enough. Ironically, maybe the things that waste our time are like experiential bonds of sorts, where one invests into them, only to eventually recognize that, over the course of their lives, those bonds have grown in value. 


I am not sure if this is exactly what my advisor meant by urging me to waste my time, but I do think that it is helpful in disentangling our relationship to the work we are doing from the relentless pressure to ensure that this work aids us in accomplishing our professional work. I think that by applying Camus’s framework to our hobbies we can understand our work as intrinsically valuable irrespective of its productive nature, and for me at the very least, this feels like progress.  

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