“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou
A few days ago I realised one word sums up my biggest fear. That word is waste. The very concept makes my chest tight with anxiety. The idea of a wasted life, a wasted environment, a wasted career makes me feel as though I am stumbling through quicksand.
But it’s amazing how, when you articulate a fear, it becomes smaller. More manageable. Something you can begin to understand, as opposed to an abstract feeling that plunges you into darkness.
Waste. I am afraid of waste, in particular of wasting my life. Of wasting my precious time and energy. As I wrote recently, you only get one life: now is the time. I feel acutely aware of the fragility of the present moment. And I ask myself on a regular basis: am I living the life I want to lead?
The truth is, the answer is complicated. In some ways I believe I am living the life I want, because if I didn’t want this life, wouldn’t I be doing more to change it? But at the same time I am plagued by uncertainty and doubt, always wondering if the grass might be greener on the other side.
A common theme in my writing is that of choices. I often struggle with making decisions, out of concern that I will take a wrong turn, or worst-case-scenario, waste some of my time.
I don’t think this is a fear that will go away overnight, and I acknowledge that it can also be one of my strengths, as it constantly forces me to explore new options and challenge my surroundings.
But it is a fear that can spiral out of control if I let it, and cause me to be incredibly hard on myself. My fear of ensuring I get the most out of the present moment is self-defeating – I cannot get the most out of anything when I am afraid of it.
Fortunately, a colleague recently helped to put my mind at ease. I was telling him how I majored in French at university, and I found myself shrugging off this personal achievement because ‘I don’t use the language on a day-to-day basis’.
My colleague swiftly countered my self-depreciation. “Learning is never wasted,” he said. “You never know when you might need to draw on that knowledge.”
A simple truth, yet one I had failed to see beneath my own anxieties. His words completely shifted my perspective. I realised I have been impatient with the present moment. Sometimes what we are doing right now cannot be fully understood until the future. And that’s okay.
I can be prone to literal, black-and-white thinking. I can quickly jump to extreme conclusions when I am feeling unsettled or disillusioned. But I need to remember that, even if my present moment is uncomfortable or imperfect or less than ideal, that doesn’t mean I am wasting my life. That doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong. It just means I am on a journey, one moment at a time.
My little realisation might seem like an obvious truth to some. But I think it illustrates how fear can cloud our perceptions. I am passionate about learning – that is why I started this blog – yet my fear of wasting my time can sometimes stop me from covering new terrain.
What I need to remember is that I don’t always need an immediate reason for learning something. I don’t need to justify it at the time, rather I need to trust in the process. Every piece of knowledge I acquire adds to how I see and understand the world. Whether I draw on that knowledge now or 50 years in the future is irrelevant.
Waste is all around us, it is a modern burden. We throw things out as fast as we consume them. It is a very real fear, both philosophically and physically. But when it comes to learning, I believe we can all find some peace in the fact that no knowledge is a waste of time.
Make time to learn, invest in education, celebrate the mind’s infinite imagination. Trust in the process. It may not all make sense now, but hindsight can be a beautiful thing.