How much more time will you waste?
hroughout my life, I have found that there are two kinds of people. One group seems to be constantly bored, idling away their days and waiting for life to come to them. The other group does the opposite—they are constantly busy, feel like there are not enough hours in the day, and they are out there chasing life.
I am in the latter group. I feel annoyed with myself when I see myself wasting time. I do not avoid relaxing and enjoying life by any means, but if I am mentally and physically rested, I would rather be doing something than just twiddling my thumbs. I would rather be writing or researching something or reading for enrichment or doing something engaging with my professional peers, wife or children. Why? It is simple—the time I spend improving myself now always pays bigger dividends later.
Self-improvement is an investment of time and energy instead of an investment of money, but both pay excellent returns. It can improve your health, your emotions, your career and your financial state.
There are many areas one can work on in their spare time. I will discuss three here. First, work at improving your knowledge. Ideas are incredibly valuable and grow more valuable every day as society moves in a direction where creativity is rewarded. Exposure to new ideas of doing things plus the life experiences you already have make it more and more likely that you will be able to produce unique ideas—and those unique ideas can be incredibly valuable for your career later.
One powerful way to increase knowledge is to read. Take on a book that challenges you and pushes the way you think. I like to read biographies and books that advocate positions I do not agree with. These books force me to understand other perspectives and, at the same time, re-evaluate and strengthen and perhaps change my own. Another effective way to knowledge is through conversation with a person willing to engage ideas. Share your thoughts, listen to what they share, and debate their relative merits. Accept that criticism of an idea that you presented is not criticism of you, but of the idea itself—a thing most Malawians (including the most educated) are yet to embrace.
Second, improve your transferable skills. I have written about this before, but the core of the matter is still true: transferable skills—the type of skills that fit well in almost any career path—are always worthwhile to build. These include communication, time management, creativity and leadership skills. How can you do these things? Well, you might try implementing a new time management system in your life. Or you might volunteer to take a leadership position in a community group. You could join a charity group like Rotary clubs or a debate club like the Toast Masters. These would help you achieve most of these skills.
Third, improve your personal nature. Knowing who you are—your strengths, your weaknesses, your joys, your sadness—makes it a lot easier to navigate the minefield of life. It is well worth your time to figure out who you are and what you truly value. Spend some time being introspective. Ask yourself how you honestly feel about the elements in your life. Are these things bringing you joy or sadness? Why? What elements, you ask? Look at everything: your health, your relationships, your activities, your possessions and so on. This type of introspection can be very difficult. Often, we want to feel certain ways about certain things and, on some level, we convince ourselves that we do. Digging through that, figuring out our true feelings and acting on them results in nothing but life improvement.
Lastly, improve your relationships. Most relationships need some amount of care and feeding, but in the busy nature of modern life, it is easy to overlook the care and feeding that some of our most important relationships require. Take some time and just talk to your spouse about how life is going. Give your mother and father a long phone call. Get in touch with your siblings. Look up some of your close friends that you’ve drifted away from over time. Those relationships are invaluable, and any time spent maintaining them will pay off in surprising ways over time.
Here is the real message: The difference between the successful and the non-successful appears in how they “waste” their time. People who succeed spend almost all of their time doing something that in some way improves themselves, their relationships, or their career situation. That is not accomplished by idling. Are you feeling challenged? Maybe this message is for you!