Does Your Use of Time Serve YOU?

If there’s one thing I know for sure days before Hanukah or Christmas is that we’re reprioritizing our use of time. How many days is it before THE day? Can Amazon still get it there on time? Time takes on a different feel. Whatever we are buying, however we feel about buying the stuff, the reality is that during this season, time is used differently. It’s used in the service of giving to others. We often think of time as linear and monolithic, to be used in “x” way in “y” hours over a period of 24 hours. However, time is much more malleable than we think.  Time is configurable to our intentions. We are, once again, at the end of another year. Isn’t it a good time to contemplate if time is serving you?

At a café yesterday, I sat next to a mom of a newborn talking to her friend while I was doing my work on my laptop. Their voices carried easily to allow me to hear something that pulled me back to that moment in my life, when the dispense of my time would change radically from anything I’d ever known. The new mother was apologizing to her friend about not seeing her as often. She explained how much of her time is now devoted to her newborn. To the untrained ear, it sounded mundane – breastfeeding, sleeping , changing diapers. One may even judge her to be a bit self-absorbed, lamenting about the reluctance to have to find the right person to take care of her child when she returns to work. Blah, blah, blah. The sad plight of another well-educated new mom who has a myriad of choices.

But my response was of empathy, having walked in those steps 15 years ago. I felt her elation and simultaneous sadness.We often are unconscious of how we use our 24 hours until we encounter a major life change, when we are called upon to consciously use time in the service of purpose. Having walked the path before this new mother, I knew time would never be her “own” again, with less control and certainty of what’s to come the next hour and minute. Even today, with my children at 14 and 11, my relationship with time is more akin to jumping rocks along the bank of a shallow creek than walking a clearly laid out path of certainty. My time and space have taken on the feel of a Jackson Pollock painting. Chaotic and vibrant. Colors abound. Moments of brushstrokes. No longer is my life Monet’s thoughtfully laid oil on canvas, brushstrokes savored over time.

For the last decade, after having left my executive life in corporate America, I have learned to live with the paradox of time. For those of you who (have) had a “on-steroids” full time career and since having children or other life-changing events, have had the luxury or mandate to shift your life to a completely different paradigm, you understand what I’m saying. Your life as you had known it, no longer exists. At some point, you had to completely re-inventory the use of your time, how you managed your time, and had learned to say no and I don’t know more often than you ever did in the previous phase of life. The loss of “control of time” in a planned, coordinated fashion can be terrifying. Until we realize our re-embodiment of time reflects the re-embodiment of self and purpose.

For the first time in my life, “others” became the centrality of my life. My children still are. They take a space in my life like no one else. The “all-in” effect of motherhood has been stunning to me, especially as a woman who never had a lifelong yearning for motherhood. Much as I love motherhood, time was never meant to be 100% theirs. And it took a mild depression to help me to realize that. My life passion still demanded time for creating, for innovating, for making a difference in the outside world. With a mix of intention, serendipity and tradeoffs, Dreambridge Partners was founded.

I run a business that I love. The only reason I do it is because I care deeply about its impact. My use of time has to matter. More than ever, time is perishably precious. Precisely because of its perishability I’ve had to mold and partner with time. Business and family integrate all the time in my life, but I’ve had to wall off non-negotiable family time because I know I lean towards overworking. When I’m off, I am off. When I’m on, I’m ON. Interestingly, how we use our time is judged by others in society. As an entrepreneur, I’ve had to learn to keep listening to my voice. This has been excruciating for me, having been brought up in an Asian familial culture that always honored and sought approval from “the establishment”. Like all commitments, we get tested. Recently, a person in the business community commented that I have a “lifestyle company” (not in a complimentary way, by the way) because to this person, I was putting its importance behind my children. My interpretation of this person’s comment – It didn’t “feel” like the company of a Harvard Business School grad. At first it stung a bit, given I periodically cave into the need to be the paragon of the Harvard Business School graduate – 150% devoted to my business. But as with all tests, we walk away with greater clarity. For me, it was knowing that my “lifestyle company” and my choice of the dispense of my time is exactly where I want it to be. My father’s early death taught me that the treasure of life is in our legacy of love and presence. Thusly, I have meticulously crafted a life where I get to experience my children, through the everyday experience of homework entanglement, dinner “let ME talk now” competition and bedtime “mom I had a bad day” conversations. And. Yes AND. I have a business I adore. It’s having impact on people in important ways and I intend it to have even greater impact in the future. But I’m patient. Time has taught me that it is malleable and I can do with it as I choose. I have learned that with clarity of my values and purpose, time for work and life can be molded to fit in form and function. It may take some wrangling and iterations, but that’s also the process of life.

As we close 2015, another 365 days and 8,760 hours have passed, never to return. It may be a perfect time to inventory how you’ve spent your days and hours this year, and consider if it reflected your values and purpose? Remember, time is malleable to our intentions. Time willingly serves us. Is time serving you?