Red Light, Green Light

It’s the beginning of another school year. I view it as a fresh start. It’s the time to break old habits and set new, more productive ones. It’s the time to set more goals and start working toward achieving – or even exceeding – them. It’s a time of renewal.

I’ve been trying recently to decide what I’m going to focus on this year. Do I need to put more time into my health? My academics? My social life? My extracurriculars? How should I balance them all? It all comes down to time. It’s the one thing we can’t stop, can’t manipulate, and yet, it is what rules most of our lives.

My sister said something the other day that made me think. During our daily routine of Taylor putting on her makeup and getting ready while Jordan reads her tens of random facts she will probably never need, Jordan said, “Did you know that the average person spends six months of their life at a red light?”

How much of my life do I spend waiting? If I spend that much waiting at just a red light, how much of my life is spent waiting for everything else: waiting to leave, waiting to arrive, waiting to wait in line somewhere else? The amount of time is probably more than I’d even like to know.

And how do I spend that time? When I consider it, not that well. I spend it thinking about what I’m waiting for, engaged in the act of waiting itself, throwing the valuable currency of time into an abyss of nothingness. Who is to value one moment more than another? Each minute is important, for it’s as if we are spending money without being allowed to check our account balance. We don’t know how many minutes have left to spend.

I want to try to make the most of my red light time this year, by filling it with small things that mean something. It could be studying for an exam, reading some more random trivia, or taking a minute to send a nice text to a friend. I want to be able to say that I spent six months of my life doing something that mattered.

How do you spend your red light time? Do you have any creative ways to make the most of small moments of free time?

P.S. – I’m not actually going to be doing things at a stop light that involve something other than my brain. That’s not safe!

Rediscovering “Free Time”

Coming home for part of my freshman summer seemed at first like the best of both worlds. I could earn some money and build up my resume, but also relax and enjoy some time off. Entering into a job in a place I’ve never been (San Francisco) doing something I’ve never done (being a “camp counselor” of sorts for a Wharton summer program), I figured the “earning money” part of my summer would be the most challenging. I’ve actually found that the “relaxing and enjoying time off” part has already been hard enough.

Why? I think I’ve forgotten how to have leisure time.

In high school, I did the International Baccalaureate program, a highly challenging curriculum I took junior and senior year. Full of projects, presentations, and other outside requirements, IB often pushed me to my limits. I went into survival mode. I remember that on the rare nights I didn’t have some sort of extracurricular or schoolwork, I’d go to bed as soon as possible, hoping to “bank sleep” for the next few nights, where I had no idea how much sleep I’d be able to catch. Extra time became sleep time.

Before high school, I was a voracious reader. My mom often told people, “Most people have to tell their kids to come inside and pick up a book. I always had to tell Taylor, ‘Put down the book and go outside for a while!'” While this was exaggerated, you get the point. I loved to read, and I spent almost all my spare time doing it. I was also very interested in arts and crafts, although in hindsight I am horrible with attention to details and not creative in the least bit, and writing, especially poetry, which again, in hindsight, wasn’t so great.

Nonetheless, I had a variety of interests to fill my free time as a child; however, as junior high and high school began to demand more of me, my interests took a backseat to schoolwork and extracurriculars. I found myself having less and less free time for the things I’d once loved. Strangely, I didn’t notice the shift. Until this summer.

As I mentioned before, I set aside over half of my freshman summer for relaxation and free time. At the beginning of the summer, I marveled at the idea of days on end without homework or a to-d0 list. I was looking forward to being able to just “be.”

The first few weeks of summer were pretty busy. With the boyfriend only home for those couple of weeks, days were spent bouncing between time with him, my extended family, and my friends I’d left here at home. I’m an extrovert, and so I love spending time with people. I loved that kind of busyness, a contrast from the academic busyness of college.

After my boyfriend left and I had at least seen all the friends once, things started to wind down. I found myself waking up without plans at all, ten hours (or more) ahead of me with nothing particular to fill them. This is what I had dreamed of for nine months of school, and yet, when it was staring me in the face, it seemed like something absolutely terrible. What was I supposed to do for that many hours?

Some days, I’d be able to find things to fill the daylight. I’d go to the gym, run errands for my mom, and cook for the family. Once the sun set, I struggled to pass the time. I fought the urge to go to sleep the minute I had free time, to revert back to my IB instincts. Without tasks that needed to be completed, I felt empty. I began to dread unplanned hours. I had no idea what to do.

A couple of days ago, I sat down and considered why this sense of boredom, of nothingness, had hit me so suddenly. I began thinking about past summers and other times of leisure and realized that in the chaos of growing up, I’d lost any notion of hobbies, of things to do for fun. Fun? What was fun? I realized that it had been a very, very long time since I’d really done something by myself “for fun.” I’m pretty social, and so most of my fun, especially in college when I was surrounded by friends, centered around other people. I had no idea how to have fun alone.

So, this summer, I’m making it my goal to reclaim things that make (just) me happy. In looking for things to fill my time, I see that I may have lost a bit of myself in all of my busyness. I’m trying to find it. I started by checking out about ten books from the library on stuff I’m interested in. I’ve spent time on Pinterest finding cool things to do with my nails, hair, and makeup. I’m cooking (a lot).  I’m trying to write more in this blog. And I’m continuing to look at leisure time as a blessing, a time for me to spend with myself, uncovering a little bit more of me.

Can you relate? Do you appreciate your free time as much as you should? Feel free to comment.