The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator
Wasting Time

Wasting Time

I am a time fanatic. I am that person at the wedding that is waiting for the events to get going…why aren’t we starting on time, when will dinner be served….I can’t help myself, time is ticking and I need it to not be wasted. I plan years in advance, setting goals and wanting to accomplish certain things and am frustrated if these don’t come to fruition and elated when I get it done. I am a doer. Give me a job and I will get it done. Get in my way, and I will be irritated.

But in all that I have achieved and for the recent deep hurts of things that I didn’t, I have discovered that I have a fear of wasting time. A fear that seems even more intense than my fear of dogs, or fear of drowning. It has become more apparent to me how much a fear of wasting time has driven me to work harder than I probably should. Recent events have slowed me down and I am now forced to reevaluate what it is that I am doing and put me into a reflective mode instead of a doing mode.

A number of years ago, I sat with my mom and she wasted away, literally dying in front of me. I had moved home shortly after my PhD to take care of her, taking turns with my siblings to give her pain meds to try and keep her comfortable as she was dying in front of our eyes. I had my computer and was busy trying to write a paper, while she napped. Then I continued to make myself busy, trying to make dinner that she couldn’t actually eat, cleaning up around the house, and continued to work around her. She smiled at me one afternoon and asked me to take my earphones out. She wanted to point out something to me. She said “listen….”. Listen to what? It was dead quiet. She explained that around 3 PM in the afternoon, she noticed that the noises around us got more hollow sounding, more muted. She waited for it every day and listened to the quiet, and I watched her basking in the sunshine, just enjoying the total silence. And in her way, she gently suggested that sometimes it is okay to be reflective and quiet and that I didn’t have to feel that I had to be productive all the time.

I lost her to cancer a few weeks later and I have never been the same. Her death broke me, but it also made me stronger. She was 51. In all of the events that have shaped me, her passing has been the most poignant and I now realize, 11 years later, that her death made me realize how short life was. But instead of taking time to reflect on why and what I am doing, and not feeling the stress of being productive 100% of the time, instead, I have driven myself in another direction. Fretting over being too relaxed and needing to have something to show for my time. Because deep down, I am afraid that I will also not live as long as most people since I am genetically hers, and I have even less time to make a difference.

In the last few weeks, I have had a huge disappointment that has thrown me into a strange place where I have had to reflect on what is it that I am doing and why am I doing it. I have literally wasted 2 years of my life on something that wasn’t a bad thing to do, but it will never see the light of day, so it has wrecked me. I am trying to see the good in the disappointment, trying to readjust and refocus my energy. But it has occurred to me that maybe it is time to take the earphones out and just listen. Not feeling that I have to have all the answers at the moment, but to just rest and wait for a little. And just maybe, I haven’t actually wasted time and will look back at the last few years and see that it was meant for something bigger and better.


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