“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time." -- Jim Rohn
In today's world, we are connected to everyone and everything whenever we want to be (and even when we don't want to be). In some ways, technology has made our lives easier and more efficient, but it has also made managing our time and pursuing what is truly meaningful that much more challenging.
As Valorie Burton writes, "If the new normal is doing too much with too little time, technology is the engine that makes the new normal operate." But technology itself is not inherently bad; it only becomes "bad" when we do not properly manage ourselves.
Our poor time management and the ability to separate what is meaningful from what feels urgent is the true villain, not the smartphone, smartwatch, or tablet. When we fail to set boundaries, this new normal of getting more done at any hour and from any location is approved and perpetuated.
There is a great sense of pressure, especially in American culture, to get more, do more, be more. As a result, we have higher expectations of ourselves and those around us.
For ourselves, these expectations often result from comparing our lives to those of others, fueled by social media and the entertainment industry. But success isn't a universal metric. What success is for one person doesn't have to be the same for someone else. "Heightened expectations about what success and happiness look like can lead you on a path that holds little meaning, at a pact that's dangerous, for a reward that will prove empty."
If the expectations we put on ourselves are not enough, we also have the expectations others set for us. We often change our behavior and make choices to meet those expectations -- in the workplace, in the family, in the church, and in the community. We are often willing to rise to these expectations because we feel like it's the only way to be accepted, gain security, or have value.
Finally, because we and others expect so much of us, we turn those expectations on others. "With less time available to do what we need to do, we have less tolerance for those who take up our time. The temptation is to be less generous with our time yet expect others to be generous with theirs. We expect our needs to be met instantly, and that means that we can become demanding and impatient if we are not careful. We can assign urgency to things that don't require it and lack patience for the things that are meaningful."
The Problem With Heightened Expectations
These expectations set a standard for life that is unrealistic, unsustainable for the long-term, and ultimately robs us of our happiness and sense of worth. But we've been swept up in the misunderstanding that if we are busy, busy, busy, we must be important because we crave a meaningful life.
In today's culture, "busyness has become a status symbol. We see someone stretched for time as someone who is in demand. And if you are in demand, you must be important. Meaning is defined as significance, importance, relevance, and that which is worthwhile. But when we mistake busyness for importance, we pursue it in our search for meaning, and we devalue rest, leisure, and play, all of which are essential to healthy functioning."
"Beware the bareness of a busy life." -- Socrates
The Good News
But just because these expectations and norms exist doesn't mean we must accept them or give them a place in our lives. We have a choice; we can either ignore our feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety caused by trying to live up to these expectations, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and push through until we're burnt out and neglecting everything that truly does have meaning; or we can stop and reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it to search out what is truly meaningful for us.
This takes courage and intentionality. Because once you have stopped to reflect, then you need to do something to change the way you use your time, and it won't be easy. Once you decide to go against the "norm" and build boundaries and meaning into your schedule, the world will push back; it takes more effort to paddle upstream than float with the current. But it's worth it. "Making such a shift will go against norms, but it will also refresh your soul. It will quench your thirst for meaning and joy in your everyday life. It will restore a sense of control and purpose. Be honest with yourself and others about your needs, and you will be liberated to live a life that is authentic to you -- the life you were created to live."
This week, consider the following questions:
What expectations do you have of yourself that drain your time and create unnecessary pressure?
What expectations do you embrace, not because they are meaningful to you, but because they are the norm everyone else embraces?
How do you treat others as a result of your expectations of yourself and them?
How would your stress level and happiness change if you adjusted your expectations?