“And all I could have been/And all I would have been/Is lost in time”
When I was a wee Baa with mismatched pigtails, Sensei (aka: eldest brother) said something that scared the daylights out of me: “Do what you love, Baa,” he said. “Or before you know it, you’ll be 40, working a job you hate, wondering what the hell happened to your life.”
Sensei frightened me into not having this problem, but not everyone has a bro as wise as mine. This unfortunate truth was highlighted during a recent conversation I had with my friend Derek, a med student. In his spare time, (he has spare time?) Derek is trying to write a book. For now, it’s just a hobby. He fears that’s all it will ever be.
“I wish I had more time,” Derek says over the phone. “But…” I hear the shrug. The reluctant surrender. But what can I do? I’m in freaking medical school.
How do we find the time/money/energy to do what we love when normal life is so wearing? Derek wants to write, but he’s studying from dawn to midnight every day. He could quit school and write full-time, earning the eternal and unholy wrath of his parents. But he’s not going to do that because A) he’s not an idiot and B) he can’t afford to just upend his life in such a drastic way. So what does Derek do?
If he’s willing to be a little imaginative, there’s a simple answer: Derek needs to force himself to connect to his dream, even if it’s for only 20 minutes a day. This doesn’t mean daydreaming about writing. This means that he finds 20 minutes during which he’d normally be doing something else (eating, sleeping, studying) and instead, he writes.
Ok, I know this sounds stupid, like a bad infomercial or one of those spammy emails that’s like “Earn 60K by only working for 30 seconds a day!!!!” But I’m actually serious. This 20 minutes is the first step in a long game. Because 20 minutes isn’t enough, of course. That’s the point. You stay connected so that you’ll always want more. You keep your dream alive by reminding yourself of its existence every day. Soon, you realize that you need to do the thing you love. And as necessity is the mother of invention, you start finding a way forward.
Derek starts with 20 min a day. Then he wants more. Se he spends extra time on his writing during school breaks. And when he’s finished med school and rotations, he can find a way to write 8 pages a week. Sounds paltry, but 8×52 is 416 pages. As Updike said, that’s a book a year. And it’s been done. Atul Gawande manages it. So does Oliver Sacks.
A more practical example: I chipped away at my book and my craft for two years before finally quitting my job to focus on it. Then it took me 3 more years before I was able to work at it as much as I truly wanted to (35-50hrs/week).
Doing a little of what we love every day isn’t a guarantee that we’ll succeed, or even that we’ll pursue it full-time. But it’s a good place to start. Derek might never be a full-time writer. Maybe he’ll be a doctor and he’ll always write on the side. But that’s ok, too. Because which version of Derek will be happier? The Derek who hits 40 having made his dream a small part of his daily life? Or the Derek who hits 40 and has forgotten that he ever had a dream at all?
(Title inspiration: Whitley–Lost in Time)