Let’s Get Down to Busy-ness…

Last week I became fully aware of something: I’m busy all the time. My schedule is full, every day and every night, with personal and professional obligations. So, I did what any unmarried man in his late twenties would (and should) do upon such a realization: I promptly called my mom to talk to her about it.

Now, I’m of the mind that this is a good problem to have: barely one year into a new life in a new place, and I’m very much not bored.

In an effort to better understand what this newfound “busy-ness” means, I’m trying to think of it in context of our topic here, the conditions of success. Right now, I think it is both a condition and a product of success. I’m blessed by God with new opportunities, which I try to make the most of, and that I believe creates a kind of virtuous circle. You could call it a network effect, or “escape velocity,” or even “critical mass,” if you prefer.

You can look at it as having a downside as well, in terms of opportunity cost. You have to give up the potential benefit of one thing in order to pursue another. That’s like anything in life, which is itself a series of trade-offs. The busier you are and the more in-demand your time is, the greater the stakes – both good and bad, generally speaking.

This leads me to asking myself: Am I spending my time in the right ways? Do I need to budget my time better?

(insert record squeak) Hold up. Do you see what’s going on there?

Thanks, Timmy. But we’re all at fault here.

Something is not quite right, I think, with the vocabulary we use to talk about time. It’s all economic-icky and financial-ey. “Time is money,” we say, and to a certain extent that is true. And while I have yet to offer a coherent definition of what I believe success IS, I’m so far convinced that it is not, solely, determined by wealth.

Rather than than talking about ways to budget and manage my time, I want to get out of the weeds and take a philosophical flight back in time in order to get a little perspective.

So, class, let’s turn to Book Four, Chapter One of the Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle discusses the Generosity, the virtue dealing with money. It is, he says, the mean condition (think “golden mean”) between stinginess, a deficiency, and wastefulness, an excess.

And though I know you’ve got your copy out in front of you, I’ll quote a few selective passage to give you a sense of what he says:

  • “Actions in accord with virtue are beautiful…; the generous person, then, will give for the sake of the beautiful, and in the right way[.]”
  • “But generosity is meant in relation to one’s means, for the generosity is not in the amount of what is given, but in the active condition of the giver, and this depends on one’s means.”
  • “[K]eeping precise accounts is chintzy.” (Ok, full disclosure, this quote is actually from the next chapter, where Aristotle discusses the virtue of Magnificence, but I still think this holds up because the subject matter is really the same, only the order of magnitude differs.)

Now, I’ve shared all of this good ol’ (literally) thinking with you because, as we’ve established, we are in the habit of talking about time in terms of money, and I think we can apply these ideas to our schedules.

We should be generous with our money AND our time, which, as we’ve just read, means that we should be using both in proportion to our means. For me, that’s one thing. To you, all 2 or 3 of you reading, this may be quite different, especially if you are a husband/wife and/or mother/father. We have certain obligations in common, and others unique to us. But all can be directed – not just managed – by this same virtue, generosity.

To be perfectly clear, it does not mean that we have full leeway to shrug off doing what we know we must because “we don’t live by a strict schedule. “ That’s dumb. A proper practice of generosity with one’s time requires quite a lot from us, doing the right thing, in the right way, in and for the right time.

Our time is not just valuable, then; it’s beautiful. Or, rather, we should act in ways that make it so.

More soon…

-Fred

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