Time is a precious commodity that we in the United States just don’t seem to ever have enough of. As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic (DR), I had all the time to myself until schooling began. That’s when time started slipping through my fingers. Back in the DR we only went to school for half a day, either in the morning or afternoon. It was convenient enough to give me flexibility to unvoluntarily help with the house chores and then go play with my neighborhood friends, watch Chespirito or my favorite cartoons. I gave my time at school in exchange for discipline and knowledge, and at home, for a little fun and entertainment.
Back home, we were poor, very poor, literally dirt poor. It wasn’t until I was five or six that we upgraded to a better home with concrete floors. My parents have strong work ethics and they worked hard in their convenience store all day to provide for basic necessities. My middle sisters helped raise the younger ones including me, while the older ones helped at the convenience store.
Although I didn’t have many toys while growing up, I was a happy child that would make an annual Christmas toy last a lifetime. There was no such thing as throwing out a toy just for the sake of it. My toys would tear apart and I’d repair them and continue to enjoy them until there was no other creative way to play with them. While money was not abundant, we always had time to eat dinner at the table together and spend the weekends doing social family activities. Sundays were special days in which everyone would wear their best attire, go to church and welcome visits from family and friends. We didn’t have many material possessions but we were happy.
After arriving to the U.S. at the age of 12, toys became more available. However, I noticed that I had even less time to play than back home. Time devoted to school stretched to a morning through afternoon ordeal and our lives got busier with the “go go go” pace of the U.S. What happened to my down time? Was this part of growing up? Fast forward to middle school, high school, college, errands and a few job stints in between, and most of my time seemed out of my control.
Looking back, I realized that the American lifestyle drains the time out of you. We get so busy trying to make a living that we forget to live and appreciate what we have. I lived that life of busyness until I realized that we have a lot more control than we think on how we can spend our limited time on this precious Earth. All throughout our lives, we trade our time for things and experiences. We go through the motions barely acknowledging the fact that most of these things aren’t really worth it. Think of the memories in your life that brought you happiness. Imagine if you could have more of those precious moments in your life? My childhood memories were happy times that didn’t involve spending lots of money, but rather doing the simplest things with my loved ones.
How does one make time for the happy moments in life, when the society we live in is addicted to materialism? If we continue to try to fill a void with materialistic possessions, we’ll never be truly happy. We need to start looking at time and money through a different lens. Money can be the vehicle to free our time for meaningful life experiences. Joe Dominguez, in the book Your Money or Your Life, has the most meaningful definition of money that I’ve encountered: Money is your life energy. This is a simple yet very powerful statement. It challenges you to think about how to get the most value out of every dollar spent, since you’re spending your life energy.
As I sit in the wine room of the Normandy, one of our favorite boutique hotels in Washington D.C., sipping wine and secretly observing Mrs. Enchumbao, and typing these lines as she intensely reads a bible-sized version of A Dance with Dragons in a cute summer dress, I realize how satisfying it feels to spend our life energy towards these precious moments. instead of trading it to buy things we don’t even have time to use, useless junk indeed. My wife and I prioritize spending time with each other and traveling the world over having a huge house that would keep us tied down with a mortgage, and draining home maintenances responsibilities, like mowing a farm-sized lawn on the weekends.
Every purchase that you make is being bought by your life energy. Before parting with your life energy, you should ask yourself if that is the best use of it. I’ve seen people trade an excessive amount of life energy for luxuries that they end up using only occasionally.
Let’s see how life energy can be
wasted used inefficiently by the following example: Tony, a single fellow, is feeling really good about his new job, and decides to buy a $3,000 pool table to entertain his friends. He charges the purchase to a credit card. Tony gets a weekly paycheck of $520. To pay for this luxury, he’ll need to work at least 6 weeks, not including credit card interest. Would trading all of this life energy for a pool table, that he’d only occasionally use, be worth it? Would he’d been better off going to a pool hall when he wanted to shoot a game of pool, meet up his friends there, and save the rest of the money to buy his time back and maybe even retire earlier? Hell, yeah!
There’s a number of things that I didn’t account for in the example above such as: the opportunity cost, the commute time to work which has a cost as well, the extra housing space that Tony would need to accommodate the table, as well as maintenance and moving fees, if he were to move in the future.
We can find many other examples of inefficient use of our life energy. It’s just a matter of getting rid of these deficiencies and deciding which expenses bring you the most value for your life energy. If all you ever wanted in life was to have a pool table and this is going to bring you the most satisfaction, then by all means, go for it! I’m not here to crush your lifetime dream. In the quest for true happiness, you can have anything that you want but you certainly can’t have everything that you want. Life is all about choices, after all.
When you begin to spend your life energy wisely, something very empowering starts to take effect. You become the main driver behind the wheel of your life. Those actions that seemed to be part of “destiny” become actionable items that you can control. You start to call the shots based on your own beliefs, instead of what society dictates. Money slowly becomes less of an issue in your daily life. You become immune to the advertisements because you know your life energy is in play. You begin to notice that you don’t need all these things you always thought you needed to be happy. If you get laid off, you won’t have to worry about how the bills would get paid because you would have stored up some of the proceeds from your life energy. You could even take time off, go on a vacation before starting a new job, take time to reflect on your life, and prioritize what would make you truly happy.
Ultimately, know that the choices you make in life are within your control. Start valuing your time energy now and spend it wisely!
How do you spend your life energy? Where are you getting the most value out of it?