As soon as you have a kid, the sentiment (read: warning), “They grow up so fast!” is uttered by every mother, grandmother, and parent who crosses your path.
It’s said so often, you start to believe it.
It’s as if these people somehow know something different about the passage of time. I can tell you when I was in the throes of sleepless nights, witching hours, feedings, wakings, and pretty much trying to accomplish anything, time had slowed to a painful crawl.
Every breath stretched to minutes, every task took days or weeks, every learning took months to years to master as I stood by, arms-length away, whenever he needed me.
As a kid, everything in their bodies and lives is changing so quickly, it’s true (the rate of growth, learning, and change is the fastest it will ever be), and yet time feels soooo slow to a kid. Remember what a family drive felt like (“Are we there yet?”) or how long summer vacations felt as you soaked in every new experience and moment?
As an adult, the changes we experience have slowed dramatically and time has sped up like lightning. When I was studying abroad my junior year of college, I remember saying to my dad, “I can’t believe how quickly it’s going.” He answered, with a tone of wistful melancholy, “Wait till you’re my age. Ten years will go by and you won’t know where it went.”
I no longer have to wait. I’ve arrived and he was right.
Time is an interesting construct/phenomena/concept. The passage of time can feel relative to how you’re spending it. We all know the “time flies when you’re having fun” idiom and most have experienced it and agree it’s true. Then, what’s up with how fast the years fly by as an adult? I’d argue most adults aren’t having as much fun as their kid counterparts.
How does time speed up or slow down – or the feeling of time, more accurately – when it is a set thing? How do we savor every moment when the fun times fly by so fast? How can we look back on life with our kids and not feel like we missed it?
Because that’s really what that sentiment is all about. When someone says to you, “they grow up so fast,” they’re warning you to savor every moment. They’re also, usually, sharing their own forlorn feelings of not appreciating the time they had or could have had with their own kids.
The bygone fact is time marches on and we’re pulled along with it.
How we spend that time is the difference between how fast or slow or meaningful or wistful or exalting or boring it feels. So, what can you do to stretch out time for the good stuff and make the most of your life?
1. Get off the hamster wheel. It’s a badge of honor in corporate America and in American life, in general, to be busy. To many, it means they’re being productive and useful. Because those qualities are highly valued in our society, the busier you are, the more highly valued you seem. But, to be busy just to prove your value and compare how you stack up against your less busy (read: lazy) neighbor skews time in the wrong direction. Busy people are rushed. They’re forgetful. They’re consumed by work or tasks or everything, so it seems, and running, running, running all the time. Do they really have less time than other people? No. Time is the same for everybody. It’s how we spend it that changes how we experience it. Stop filling your every moment with busyness. Get comfortable taking a stroll. Encourage face-to-face conversations. Simplify your life in countless ways. Enjoy reading and playing with your kids. Put away your phone and pick up a book. Or just sit, stare, and think. When you stop acting so busy, you appreciate time differently, and more of it starts to magically appear.
2. Don’t avoid the void. What do you see when you look within? Many of us live with unfulfilled needs, wants, and desires collected over time, leaving holes of dissatisfaction in their wake. In order not to feel shitty, we fill those voids with all sorts of fun distractions like alcohol, food, sex, work, shopping, social media, you name it. These activities can be fun on their own and in moderation, but as a panacea to soul-crushing loss, childhood trauma, or stunted emotional development they can quickly take over and overflow the voids so you don’t even know they exist. The problem with that “solution” is you’ve ignored the very source of the problem. It’s still there. The dull, aching black hole of despair. Oh, it’s there, and only gets bigger the longer you ignore it. By really tuning into yourself, listening to your inner voice, and facing the voids head on, you can work to heal yourself, not just slap a band-aid over the wound. This leads to more peace in your life and less time spent filling the voids with convenient subterfuge, which means more time for the things that really matter.
3. Do what you love. Adults spend a huge chunk of their lives working, so they can afford the lifestyle they want and provide for their kids if they have them. Our economy is set up this way. It’s hard to avoid. Yes, there are ways to live off the grid, move to more economically viable countries, and live more alternatively. But, living in a commune in Peru isn’t for everyone. Since most of us have to work the majority of our waking hours, why not choose work you love. Let me put it this way: there are 24 hours in a day. Most American adults, spend 10-12 hours working/commuting. Factoring in sleep for 6-8 hours, that leaves 4-8 hours of free time. But, let’s face it. That free time is far from free. It’s usually spent doing more work at home, with your kids, for yourself as you do all the things responsible American adults do. In reality, most of us have about 1 to 3 hours a day to relax, socialize, and do something else besides work. So, what you do for the majority of your waking hours matters BIG TIME. If you don’t love it, the time you spend will seem pointless. If you aren’t interested or inspired by your work, you’ll burn out. If you don’t get innate satisfaction and pleasure from your work, you’ll fill your free time with ways to avoid the shittiness of work (see #2), thereby wasting more of your precious time.
4. Think differently and innovate. There’s a lot of indoctrination that goes on from the time we’re single digit-aged through early adulthood. If you were brainwashed well enough, you graduate and become one of the brainwashers, perpetuating the cycle of conformity-depression-distraction-despair-reluctance-avoidance, passing it on to your kids, enforcing it in the workplace, and in other realms of your life. If you’re lucky or smart, you realize this craziness before it’s too late. You wake up and see a path like this is not good times. You get that there’s another way. Thinking differently from the pack can be challenging. Going against the grain can cause conflict. There may be some pain involved. And we’re hard-wired to avoid pain. But, when you break from patterns that seem insane to you, whatever short-lived pain you may experience is rewarded with life-affirming, sustaining pleasure by living the life you were meant to live. Thinking outside the status quo and creating new ways of attaining happiness, success, balance and all the goodies of life also affirms and empowers you. This is when you really get into your groove and out of the rut, and onto a whole nother level of enjoyment and satisfaction.
5. Never stop growing. “Growing up” or being a “grown-up” implies there’s some endpoint to growing. You hit 18 and bam! You’re grown up. Congratulations! But, for anyone past that age, you know, it’s still only the beginning. Growing up should be a continuous, unyielding process of learning, evolving, transforming, revealing, and becoming evermore. As time marches on, so should you as you follow different paths, get lost and found again, take new adventurous routes, and carve well-worn walkways through the good stuff. Learn from your mistakes and those you witness. Don’t settle into the arrogance of maturity. There are endless opportunities to grow within yourself, your relationships, your community, and your world. The more you grow, the more you know…and didn’t someone say, “knowing is half the battle?” The other half is taking action in your life. Don’t wait to try the things you’ve always wanted to try. Savor the best moments. Spend quality time with those who inspire you and who you can be your best self with. Do the work necessary to live the life of your dreams…and that work starts within.
The warning other parents wisely pass along is really a reminder of appreciation and gratitude.
It’s an important reminder to us all that time can whip by leaving us disheveled in its wake. Enjoy your growing and that of your kids if you have them. Nurture and adjust and watch humans flourish as you give them what they need, you included. Don’t grow up fast. Just grow and never stop.
Please leave comments, questions or thoughts below. I read them all and would love to hear what you have to say on this subject!