O Me of Little Faith

Yesterday, in a fit of self-congratulatory bluster disguised as “giving advice,” I explained one of three important things I have learned in my lifetime. You have no doubt been constantly refreshing your browser ever since in anticipation of Number 2.

Here it is:

2. Income is renewable. Time is not. I’m pretty sure this needs to be attributed to Tim Ferriss (He’s the author of The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body and probably something else in the future that, improbably, will change your life in less time than you spend on Facebook every week.) I can’t remember whether I read it on his blog or heard him say it somewhere. Ferriss is a controversial figure and as much of a marketing genius than anything else, but the statement above is one that invades my thoughts almost every day.

Being self-employed, I’m in a job where I get to decide how much work I want to take on — whether it’s a magazine assignment, a book, or a copywriting/design job. Each of these jobs will enable me to earn money. Some pay better than others but offer less satisfaction. Others are more fulfilling or creatively stimulating but don’t pay as well. It’s a trade-off. I have to figure out how to balance these competing ideals while also knowing I need to get paid, because my income is my family’s livelihood. With each opportunity, I have to ask myself: is the potential payday worth the effort and time that I’ll put into it? If I turn down a job, I’ll lose the money but still retain the time (and, often, my sanity). If I agree to a project, I’ll get paid but at the expense of time.

Which means making the choice requires a delicate balance. The income (in an ideal world) can always be renewed. But the time I might lose — for instance, to a for-hire book project, or a multi-day speaking engagement — I’ll never get back. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but I’m slowly learning how to judge these things. That’s why I’ve turned down some magazine assignments, and even some pitches from publishers to write a certain type of book (um, Pocket Guide to Vampires?). It’s because, sometimes, my time is too valuable for me to waste it on a payday. 

Maybe that comes across as a little smug in today’s economy, but it’s how my mind works. I think for some people it can be counter-intuitive — how often do we find ourselves sacrificing time with our kids because of a high-paying job (that requires lots of travel away from home) or lucrative overtime work? When money is hard to come by, that kind of thing is easy to justify. Not all of us are lucky or blessed enough to be able to say no to certain types of paying work. I get that. For many, it is a blessing to have work at all, and it is a luxury for me to have options. But all of us get to make choices about how we spend our time, and it’s easy to forget that time is a non-renewable resource.

I have two hours with my kids tonight. Will I spend it watching TV or reading with them? Will I spend it coaching my son’s basketball team? Helping my daughter study science? Or will I spend it checking my Facebook page and messing around on my phone?

You can replace spent money, but you can’t replace spent time. I try to remember this every day and let it inform my decision-making.


I intended to post #3 today as well, but this post is already too long. Look for it tomorrow.

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