Your priorities are limited but your time is not
As college students, it’s easy to think that what we need is more time. But what we really need is a better way to think about what time is.
College is like a construction site; we come to build structures around what we know and what we care about. Just think about our professors: they give us the knowledge we need to construct paradigms, a type of building material. And there are so many building materials available at the university.
We can get involved on campus so that we come away with leadership training and experience. Every student carries some kind of course load. Amidst the chance to bundle up knowledge and experiences, what is important is that we prioritize what we really want to build while we attend FPU.
If knowledge and experience are the building blocks of our project, time is the inexhaustible bucket of mortar. Time helps us keep our experiences connected so that we can look at all that we have done as one whole structure that testifies to our formation as people.
Now, this is an unusual metaphor for time, and that’s because we already have one. But is it working? If we are not careful we will start to think that time really is like money, a limited resource that no student trying to keep good grades can ever get enough of. I know this is the most common way of thinking about time, but this metaphor doesn’t give us a way to think about just how available it actually is.
Time is always available; the clock never stops ticking, the sun and moon duck and roll in sync without hesitation. But money runs out, and so does time when we think of it in this way. There must be an alternative, a better way to relate to the moving hand of the clock.
Time makes it so that our experiences add up to something we can always refer to. The more time you commit to doing something, the more it will characterize your life. Minutes and hours are there for us to use at our discretion. And while time is not limited, our priorities are.
We all have specific fields of study, but unless your priority is getting straight A’s so that you can get the best grants or gain the affection and praise of your supporters, the grade is not what’s most important. In order to know how to use time as an unlimited resource, we have to decide what our priorities are. We might prioritize some classes over others.
Certain friendships, clubs, readings or activities might have our devotion in a way that nothing else does. Some activities give us the material to build a fortress that we want to define and animate our world, and others do not.
We can maintain a limited amount of priorities because we ourselves are limited. As humans we depend on sleep, food and human connection, to name just a few things. Don’t try to prioritize everything; your body can not and will not handle the demand.
I propose that we practice. Figure out what it is you want to build. One hour, used to do anything, is the building block and mortar that you can add to whatever structure you are trying to create. Write down your priorities and then come up with one word or phrase to serve as a name for this building. If you prioritize a specific topic within your field of study, draw a brick on a piece of paper or in a journal.
Whenever you spend time reading books (about philosophy, for example), create one brick for every hour you used and write a description of what you experienced in that time. After drawing and captioning several bricks, you will feel like you are building something, a solid structure of knowledge.
This same practice can apply to any priority. If you are an athlete draw one brick for every two hours you use to practice your sport and write a description of what you did. Being able to look back at our use of time in this way assures us of the progress we are making and the world we are building around things we care about is worthwhile.