I Wasted Too Much of My Life Doing These Two Activities

Time is the most precious gift we’re given when we come into the world. The gift isn’t the same for everyone. Some people are given little; some are given much. I’ve been given a lot, already having made it into my seventh decade.

Looking back, it’s clear to me now that I squandered a lot of this gift. I used too much of my time doing two things in particular that proved to be a waste: commuting and watching TV (or, more generally, what I call spectating).

It took me a long time to learn this lesson, Vera. Perhaps one is more apt to learn the lesson as the amount of time remaining dwindles. Perhaps when the sense of time remaining is unlimited, one simply doesn’t give the topic its due attention. But perhaps one should.

It’s been a while since I’ve spent a lot of time commuting. I ceased that particular waste of time about six years ago. But prior to that, I spent way too much time on the road driving from home to work and back.

I’m excited by the prospect of driverless cars. The first one I saw was in 2009 at Carnegie Mellon University, when I was Secretary of Community and Economic Development for Pennsylvania. The technology has advanced since then. I’m told they’re coming. I can’t wait. When they arrive, the days of wasted time behind the wheel will be a thing of the past. It can’t happen soon enough for me.

In the meantime, there is an obvious way to eliminate this waste: close the distance between one’s workplace and place of abode. It’s that simple. Well, not quite.

There are always tradeoffs. Schools, open space, etc. You can’t have it all. What I’m saying, though, is that I’d put a higher value on time than I did. I now realize time is precious and should be treated as such.

Today, my workplace is my home (although I don’t work full time). Your dad enjoys the same privilege. It’s great (except for the convenience of the kitchen, which constantly tests one’s willpower).

In recent years, I also addressed the biggest time waster of all: the television.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched a lot of TV. We even dropped cable a few years back. I realized there was little on the stations that warranted my time and attention, particularly given the access to the news afforded by the Internet.

More importantly, I realized there was a lot coming over that cable line that had the potential of being harmful — most particularly, cable TV shows (e.g., Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) and propaganda masquerading as news. Indeed, the denigration of television news over the past several decades made the decision to cut the cord easier.

The increase in the number of commercials made my decision easier, too. On commercial television, nearly a third of the airtime is consumed by commercials these days. I suspect it’s part of the reason Millennials watch less TV than Baby Boomers when they were young.

I also realized I’d rather be doing things than watching grown men play games (I spent way too much time watching sports on TV, especially football). That said, I occasionally sneak in a game or two. We joined our neighbors to watch our Denver Broncos win the last Super Bowl. And you can be sure I’ll be watching if my Penn State Nittany Lions ever make it back to a national championship game (although, if possible, I’d be there in person).

I don’t miss TV. We still watch movies and some TV series on Netflix, especially the ones produced in the U.K. that your grandmother likes. That’s another subject. I’m convinced your grandmother was supposed to have been born in England and not the U.S. But I suppose mistakes like that happen all the time.

Well, despite my regrets about the portion of my life I now feel was wasted in a car or in front of a TV, there is no turning back the clock. That time is gone. I don’t fret about it, though, because I also realize most of us aren’t made to be productive every waking hour of the day. We need some “downtime.”

Yet, especially after moving to Colorado, I’ve discovered there are better ways to spend downtime — better for me, at least. I don’t know what will fit your needs and personality the best.

We walk and hike a lot now. And I cycle a lot. And, of course, we read.

I wasn’t a reader when I was young. It’s something I picked up in my 20s. Since then, though, I’ve spent a fortune on books. I prefer nonfiction; your grandmother prefers fiction. We rarely read the same book.

Your grandmother is a power user of the local library. I’m not. I don’t like the smell of used library books. Your grandmother says I’m being silly — that they don’t smell. She’s wrong.

We’re headed off to Moab, Utah for a few days of hiking and mountain biking. It’s an easy drive from Loveland, Colorado, where we presently live.

Moab is a really cool little town in the midst of some amazing natural sites. Nearby Arches National Park is a must-see if you ever get the chance. Canyonlands N.P. offers some great sites and hiking, too. The section of the Colorado River by Moab is particularly striking.

Outdoor activities may not be your cup of tea, Vera. It’s not for everyone; we’re all different (although I can make a strong case that everyone should at least walk, and I don’t mean just to the fridge). But whatever your preferences turn out to be, just be mindful of the ways you spend your time.

It’s not that you have to be productive all the time. You don’t. But you might want to avoid activities that diminish your life.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure that long commutes and excessive TV watching diminished my life. When I return to live life again (a second shot makes sense to me!), you can be sure I’ll be spending more time out of the car seat and arm chair.

I wonder what new and creative ways I can find to waste my time.


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