Someone just asked me what I do in my spare time. I told them I didn’t have any. I know what they meant, I really do, and I swear I’m not trying to be difficult. You’ll get the same blank look, or blunt reply, from me if you ask me what I do. I just haven’t a clue how to honestly reply in a way that gives you the answer you want and still allows me to fundamentally reject the premise on which the question is based. The best I can do is try not to look like a jerk, and then re-frame the question a little.
So before I get into my sermon about time, let me explain my reaction to the question about what I do; I think they’re related. In fact, they’re related to another question, one I get when I return from traveling. “So, where you there for work or play?” The answer of course, is, yes. And every time I feel like a douchebag for not just playing along. I’m not trying to be pedantic, just faithful to a more meaningful paradigm.
What do I do? What the inquirer means, of course, is “what do you do for work?” But in my case this is no more clarifying, nor any easier to answer. I’m a photographer, an author, a blogger, a publisher, a designer, a traveler, a teacher, a speaker. All of these are true. But underlying the question is a dualism I’m living very hard to reject: the idea that work and play should, necessarily, be separate. Not only separate, but the question implies that our work – separate from our play – defines us.
Should we all do what we love in order to pay the bills? Should living a life and making a living be the same thing? Maybe not for everyone. But I think the longer we persist in thinking that the two worlds are necessarily mutually exclusive, the longer we’ll live without seeing the possibility of their convergence. But that’s not really my point. I am not making a case for “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m making a case for loving your work, and finding meaning in it. It’s been two years since I did my last humanitarian assignment. I’m going back to Africa, nervously, for three weeks in January: the first time back on assignment with a client since my accident. I’m excited. I love what I do, and at the time, when I’m working long hot hours, I rarely think of it as anything but work. But there’s nothing, in that moment, that I’d rather be doing than creating those photographs with those people, in that place. I don’t see life as a work or play proposition. I see them both combined in something more meaningful: creation.
I’ve got no advice, but if you can’t find meaning in your work, then fight like hell to find it, either there or elsewhere. I am not saying “quit your job and live on love.” I’m saying if your soul is suffocating at the job you’re doing, find another one. If you know you’ll never be happy until you at least try to start the business you want to start, then try it. Life is too short to spend the vast portion of our waking hours doing meaningless work, too short to be trading the too-few hours of our life for a mere wage.
And that’s where I choke on the question of spare time. Is any of us so rich that we can afford to look at time as though we’ve got time left over? Spare time? What is that? Extra time I’m just not using? We talk about time so flippantly. “I’m just killing time,” or “time is money.” Words not a soul among us would waste the time – and it would be a waste – to say on our death beds when time – even minutes or seconds – is all we really long for just a little more of. Kill it? Trade it for money?
My work and play is to create. To write. To photograph. To grow friendships and make new experiences together. And to mold myself, in collaboration with time and circumstance, into the person I hope to be. I read with an appetite, my coffee table and bedside tables littered with books, because the words of others are among the raw materials for whom I am becoming. I read, and watch, great stories, as fuel and hope for my own story. If it doesn’t add to my life and the work of creation in which I spend my days, or to the lives of others, then it’s neither work nor play and I’ve no time for it.
There is no spare time. I plan to use every second of it. Lives are not merely lived; they are created. And it’s that created life from which our love, our art, our legacy flows to others.