The Indecision of Time

 Photo by Rebecca Plotnick

Photo by Rebecca Plotnick

“Our world is replete with beauty and brilliance, and there isn’t enough time to see it all. I think I finally understand the root of all indecision.”

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How can you decide to spend your time on anything with the lingering knowledge that your time is finite? That one day the seconds hand on Father Time’s Rolex will tick and you won’t be here to see it?

If you could live forever, there would be no such thing as indecision. Without time as an obstacle, you would never have to worry about making a wrong choice. Why? Because with the limitlessness of time in eternity, you can always go back and choose something else.

Unfortunately, without a Philosopher’s Stone or Morgan Freeman’s genetic code, immortality is likely impossible. This means that for all of us, time is a scarce, fleeting resource that can only be used once and can never be retrieved when wasted. Since time is so disposable, we’ve become infatuated with making the ‘right’ choice—a choice that we can look back on and confidently declare that it was time well spent. But this obsession with perfection often has a glaring setback: it makes us afraid to make the wrong choice. This fear is the basis of all indecision.

The word “decision” comes from the Latin decisio, which translates as, “to cut off”. Other words that share the same root—like “incision” or “circumcision” (gulp)—are more direct in their snipping connotation. But the word “decision” requires a deeper look. When you ‘decide’ to do something, you are literally cutting off all other choices that you could have taken. This is not to say that you can’t revisit those other choices at a later date; rather, it just means that for the seconds, minutes, hours or days that you are engaged with Decision A, you will not be pursuing Decision B (unless you’ve somehow managed to be in two places at once…in which case you should call Schrödinger and tell him his cat is alive).

Because time is so ephemeral, and because there are so many good decisions that we could take in this world, we can often find ourselves indecisive about even the most trivial things. Let’s take deciding on a book to read as an example.

If you wanted to read every book in the world, it would take you well over 60,000 years. And that’s only if you read a book a day. On the more proficient end, the average working adult can read a book a week. Assuming (incorrectly) that this person starts reading right out the womb (#skillz), and lives to be 90, then as an extremely high outlier, this person will only read 4700 books in their lifetime. That’s 0.01% of all the books one could possibly read on the planet. So how can you possibly decide which book to spend your time on, with the knowledge that there is a very high chance that a book is out there that will inspire and captivate you more than the fourth book of Game of Thrones you are currently struggling through?

Admittedly, reading a book is not an intensive use of your time, and the repercussions of choosing the wrong book won’t be drastic. But what about when the stakes of a decision get higher? What if you pick the wrong college, and every month of time that you waste means you’ll have to graduate one month later? What if you pick the wrong relationship, and every day transpires with your unfound ‘soul mate’ potentially being lost forever? These are weighty decisions, and we all want to spend our time most effectively on these. But as time becomes increasingly scant, the pressure of making the right choice magnifies. The result is perpetual and pervasive indecision. 

So how do we beat the indecisiveness of time?

The answer? You don’t. Clocks will always tick, and decisions will always have to be made. You are going to make a lot of wrong decisions in your life, and your time will most definitely be squandered. But you will also make a lot of great decisions, ones that will make spending your time as sweet as a baby Oompa Loompa from Willy Wonka.

The trick is not making the right choice. Rather, the trick to life is that you must make a choice—any choice—and commit to being content with it. You can’t live with the words “What If” crawling around your brain-o-sphere. It will drive you crazy. Because even with the most seemingly perfect decisions you might make, there will always be something better.

But that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that if you take the wrong path, you will know the right path to take next time. Yes, our time on this earth is never enough. And yes, we all crave to use it as efficiently as possible. But if you dedicate yourself to living without the fear of wrong choices, then your life will be perpetually, unfailingly and habitually labeled as time well spent.