Friday, December 19, 2014

Controlling Time as a Marker of Success

A while ago, I rearranged my day to arrive at work early for an overseas conference call, only to find it had been canceled just minutes before. This is my least favorite of outcomes. My time is the most valuable resource I have, and I wasn't using it efficiently in that moment. I had a list of other places I could have been, and a dropped call was the last thing I wanted.

What I did want was control. The lesson of how to cope when I don't have control is one I'm constantly relearning. Probably half of the posts on this blog are about me controlling the situation or dealing with not having control. 

I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women a couple weeks ago, and in one of the sessions I attended, having control over your time was considered as a marker of success. The opposite of success was exactly what I felt when that call got dropped. I felt insignificant, that my time wasn't valuable. And yet, that dropped call likely had absolutely nothing to do with me--who knows what could have been happening so many time zones away?--but I let it ruin a big chunk of my day.

Yesterday, I got up at 5:30 in the morning, dressed and drove to work, arriving just after 7 am. I dealt with "overflowing inbox after two days of vacation" syndrome, had a different conference call, and ended my work day at 3 pm with an in person meeting where I was thanked for helping to provide a secure retirement for 250,000 plan beneficiaries. I got home in time for a meeting on a house project, and then attended our synagogue Hanukkah party with my family. It was a long day, and I fell asleep by 9:30, but I owned every minute of it. And like that panelist said, I felt really successful.

There is so much more that goes into that successful feeling than controlling my time though. It's children who are now old enough to manage a lot of their own daily needs. It's a reliable spouse who even took on another task I'd had scheduled for myself that day. It's a working car and the disposable income to pay for parking once in a while. It's company management that doesn't require face time from 3-5 pm so that I can work from 7-9 am instead. 

Having control over my time is fabulous, but when that gets derailed, whether through a canceled phone call or an emergency school pick up, it shouldn't make me feel less successful. After all, I felt really successful when I navigated Max through a split lip earlier this month too.

Perhaps it isn't only about having control of one's time, but instead that one's time is being valued. Maybe success is better defined as getting to use your hours in a way that you deem worthy, whatever that looks like for you. We're all in different places in life, struggling with different circumstances. What looks like time well spent for one might be unfathomable for another. But I hope that in this busy time of year, you're all getting to spend some time in the ways you find most valuable, and can feel successful along the way.


  1. "Perhaps it isn't only about having control of one's time, but instead that one's time is being valued."

    I hope I'm not derailing your very interesting and important conversation, but this line hit me and made me reflect on something I'm dealing with right now. I work in academia and am currently on winter break, but I have a lot of goals I need to accomplish that don't have specific deadlines and don't really have much oversight or someone else waiting on them. For example, I need to be working on a chapter of my dissertation and planning my curriculum changes for next semester.

    So far, in the week I've had off, I had a couple of very busy days where I was working toward these goals and then I had days where I had no motivation whatsoever and just wanted to chill out and watch bad TV. I know that after a long, tough semester filled with teaching five classes and writing a dissertation, I both earned and need some downtime, but I feel wracked with guilt and anxiety at the end of every one of those kind of days.

    I wonder, after reading your post, if that has to do with the value *I* place on my own time. Am I not valuing my downtime and relaxation? There's certainly no one else chastising me or even noticing what I have or have not accomplished during this break, so it has to be some kind of self-imposed standard, right?

    1. Yes! I totally agree that we need to place some value on down time, but that I'm also *really* bad at doing that. I like to be busy and be moving towards the (too) many goals I have, but I honestly just can't maintain that breakneck pace every day. I also feel guilty about the types of ways I choose to spend my down time too--like that I'm not out training for a marathon or reading poetry if I'm watching stupid reality TV. But I like stupid reality TV too!

      I hope you find a good mix of downtime and goal accomplishment over your break. :)