It’s not adulting that’s keeping you too busy to chase your dreams

(Originally published in The Startup on Medium. Photo byAnnie Spratt on Unsplash)

(Drink Pairing for this article: That cheap bottle of wine or 12 pack of beer you drink in front of your TV on Thursday nights).

What were you doing on April 11th, 2019? I’ll give you a hint, it was a Thursday.

If you’re like most Americans, you woke up, did some combination of getting the kids to school and going to work, came home that afternoon, and ate dinner in front of a TV followed by doing some stuff on your phone before going to bed. Do you remember doing that?

What about October 12th, 2017?

If you’re like most Americans, you woke up, did some combination of getting the kids to school and going to work, etc, etc…something on your phone for a few hours on the couch, etc, etc, bed.

When you were a kid, was this what you dreamed your life would be like?

If you’re lucky enough to live to be 90, do you think you’ll look back on your life and say, “oh, my 20s! I remember reading the funniest Buzzfeed lists in my 20s. And, when I was 27, I spent a whole three months getting to level 90 of <insert phone app game here> after work on my couch. Those were the nights I really felt alive!”

You might be able to see where today’s alcohol-fueled rant is going. “C’mon, another self righteous, self-help, article about maximizing your life, becoming some digital nomad minimalist, and throwing away my 9–5 day job. Get real, Liam.”

That’s not what I’m here to do, though. Your day job isn’t the problem. I have one, too, when I’m not drinking, writing, and running this non-café. No, it’s the hours you waste between your day job and sleep that’s killing you.

You Have More Time Than You Think

There’s nothing wrong with having a job or a career or kids to take care of. What’s wrong is when you use those things as an excuse for not doing what you really want to do with your life — when you say you can’t chase your dreams because you’re too busy “adulting” when, in reality, you probably have some time outside of those things to dedicate to what you love.

A study done by Laura Vanderkam in her book, Off The Clock, found that of us in America perceive having less time outside of work than we really do. The problem is we fall for this trick — a trick that permeates our culture — that tells us the busier we are, the more productive and successful we’ll be.

As a result, we tell themselves we don’t have time to do the things we really care about — the things we want to look back on our lives and remember for years later with a smile.

That perception isn’t reality, though. The truth is, you have more time than you think. You just trick yourself into thinking that work and “adulting” take more time than they really need to.

Why Do We Do It?

Why do we tell ourselves that we’re too tired during the week, or don’t have time for our passions?

Laura Vanderkam again has a possible answer for us. According to her, it’s all about our anticipatory selves versus our experiencing selves. In a nutshell, our anticipatory selves are thinking for the future. It’s thinking about how much fun it would be to have a night on the town, or dive headfirst into a good book, or spending the whole night in a fevered writing frenzy.

Our anticipatory self sees the potential in what we could make of our time. It’s excited. It’s hopeful for the future. It’s the version of you that only sees the potential fun parts of a future event. It’s what makes you spontaneously say yes to things without thinking through the consequences. It’s fun. It’s hopeful. It’s lively…

…It’s the arch nemesis of our experiencing selves. While your anticipatory self signed you up for that Thursday night painting class, or bought that book thinking you’d love to sit up late at night reading it, your experiencing self is the one who actually has to follow through — and your experiencing self is tired. It’s the one who had to go to work, who has a terrible boss that ruins your day. Your experiencing self just wants to sit on the couch and give your anticipatory self the middle finger for trying to get you to do stuff.

The key to living a fulfilling life is to tell your experiencing self to stuff it and try to become the person your anticipatory self dreams that you could be. And that takes willpower.

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” -Various

Don’t get me wrong, adulting is important. Go to work. Get your groceries. Do the dishes. Pick your dog up from school and take the kids for a walk. But, do you really think those tasks take up every minute of your life? Or do you think, if you paid a little more attention to exactly how you spent your day, you’d find that there are little pockets of time where you weren’t doing anything important? An hour or two here and there where you aren’t really doing more than sitting around your home doing nothing of interest? What if you could turn that time into something meaningful — something fun and memorable? What could happen if you told your experiencing self, “no, I’m not too tired. I’m not too busy. I can make every day count”?

The Weekend isn’t Enough

At this point, you might be thinking that this is what the weekends are for. Why can’t I just tell my anticipatory self to hold off until Saturday so I can spend my weeknights on the couch watching cat videos?

Oh yes, the weekends. Those 48 hours of adventurous glory where you can write, sing, play, paint, hike — whatever it is that you say defines you. Wait, I forgot to subtract the time you need to sleep. Let’s call it 7 hours per night (bless your soul if you actually get that much sleep). So, that leaves you with 34 hours on the weekend doing what you love — and that’s before you account for time spent on the weekends doing the “adulting” stuff you couldn’t accomplish during the week.

34 hours. That’s not too bad until you consider you just spent 120 hours Monday through Friday sleepwalking your way through life to reward yourself with that sliver of freedom.

Reclaim Your Weeknights

The average person spends over eight hours every day outside of work browsing the internet on their phone or watching TV. Don’t get me wrong, TV and internet are both great things. I love Game of Thrones and you wouldn’t have found this article without the internet so, I can’t complain too much. But, should you really be spending eight hours of your free time binge watching the latest show, scrolling through Instagram, or playing Clash of Clans? Isn’t there something else you could be doing with that time? Something your future self will look back and say, “that was a great night”?

Eight hours is a lot of time — time that you won’t get back. You could go for a run, read a chapter of a book, write 1,000 words of a short story, go for an afternoon hike, visit a museum, go to a concert, do a photo shoot, anything that you want in those hours. Do you really want to spend it burning your eyes to a screen, marching your way towards old age and death one click, one comment, one funny Buzzfeed list at a time?

Tired Isn’t an Excuse

Time isn’t an excuse, though sometimes, I wish it was. I get it. Some days you’re just too unmotivated after work to do anything real. Or, maybe you don’t want to be up late doing stuff on a weeknight because you need sleep.

Oh, that’s right. I forgot how critical sleep is. You can’t spend your Monday night pursuing your hobbies and passions because you need time to sleep. Sleep is important to you, that’s why you’re up in bed bathed in the warm glow of your phone, clicking on link after sleepless link until midnight.

Even if I’m tired, I figure that, if I’m going to be awake, I might as well be doing something meaningful.

Even if you slept for 8 hours, worked for 8 hours, added an hour for your commute and — let’s say 2 hours — adulting each night (that’s 10 hours of adulting each week), that still only adds up to 19 hours. That leaves 5 hours every day for you to make your life into what you want it. That’s 25 hours throughout the workweek. An entire extra day, every week. 5 hours per day where you can write, paint, train for that marathon, learn a musical instrument, go on a nature walk, whatever you feel will make that day meaningful to you instead of another forgettable night on the couch.

It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth It

Even knowing all this, it can still be difficult. It’s easy to let the little things slowly consume your life — those meaningless tasks that you do without really thinking and, next thing you know, it’s another week, another month, another year gone by.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Taking charge of your free time and turning it into something meaningful takes effort, but it’s worth it. It could change your life. Andy Weir famously wrote the entirety of The Martian in those pockets of free time between his job and adulting and sleep.

Even if you aren’t a unicorn bestselling author, turning your weeknights into something special will bring a new life to your step, help you learn new things, build new skills, and give you a life full of stories and memories. Don’t be satisfied with just the weekends, you deserve more.

Ben Franklin supposedly said to be successful, you either had to “Do something worth writing about or write something worth reading.” Most of us might not be cut out to be writers (heck, I can barely myself one on a good day), but we can all do something with our lives, so about this instead:

Live your life in such a way that, when a biography gets written about you, it doesn’t suck.

That’s a mantra I can get behind.

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