Time is thought to be constant. Something that in a Newtonian world does not vary. On my kitchen wall is an Atomic clock, so named because it has a radio receiver that listens to WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado. That transmission consists of a signal which is synchronized precisely to the atomic clock that resides there. An instrument so precise that it measures time by the electromagnetic radiation emitted as electrons move from one energy level to another. Science and technology rely on this precision. If time were not constant, our lives would be in chaos. Global travel would be impossible; cell phones would brick, Scientific research would be meaningless, nuclear reactors would melt down. However, it seems that time is not constant for me.
I worked seven days a week as a medical student. When I rotated through senior medicine, I was fortunate that my teaching resident liked me. During the twelve week rotation, she thoughtfully gave me a Saturday off. I was overcome with appreciation. This would mean that I would have Friday night off, and could sleep in Saturday morning if I wished. I would also have all of Saturday to do whatever I wanted to do. It was like receiving a Christmas present in August.
Early in my professional career I worked multiple jobs, which included a busy private practice. I was on call seven days a week for my patients, and I never knew when my pager would go off. It was hard to go into noisy places because it would be difficult to take a call on my cigar box sized cell phone. I couldn’t have a single beer. I slept very lightly. On occasion, I would get someone to cover for me. This would give me an entire weekend to do with as I pleased. I could travel beyond my pagers range. I could leave my 7-pound phone behind. More Christmas presents for sure. However, it didn’t seem three times bigger then the single day I got as a medical student.
My career continued, and it became easier to have slices of open time. I learned how to manage my patients, and they rarely called on weekends. They knew that I was good about returning their calls during the week, and so they didn’t panic. I was respectful of their needs, and so they were respectful of mine. My phones shrank in size and weight. I no longer carried a pager. More freedom, more time. But the ratio of time to extracurricular activity did not grow proportionally.
I now work three days a week, giving me a four day weekend 52 weeks out of the year. This four day weekend my family went to Minnesota, leaving me behind. Completely free of any obligation, my opportunities were endless. How would I fill all of those days? I quickly came up with a todo list in my head. There would be some practical projects and household tasks. I would do some socializing. I would take myself out to eat. I would go to a couple of movies. I might even travel to the country for a day trip. There were many things to do, but I had four days all to myself. At the start of the weekend, my time seemed endless.
The days came and went. I did do a few practical projects, but not all of them. I did socialize some, but not to the extent that I would have liked. I did take myself out to eat, but it was at McDonald’s. I did watch a single movie, but it was over two days and on Netflix. I did travel into the country, but only to keep my friend Tom company on a business call. There were other things on my list, but I just never got around to do them.
It was as if time shrank. I would wake up and do a few things; then it was time to go to bed. The cycle would repeat, and then the weekend was over. Dear reader, I had a perfectly lovely weekend, but it seemed like the activities that usually would fill one day had expanded into four. It was almost as if time had shortened, or perhaps my activities expanded. I see this trend in other areas of my life. I am doing the things that I said that I would do. But the quantity and frequency of those activities have dramatically shrunk. It is so easy to fill my time with a conversation, or a walk, or some meditation. I am not complaining, as I think this is a natural progression as one goes from a more structured to a less structured life. However, I find it interesting.
I could come up with a rigid schedule. I could have my phone beep commands to keep me on target. I could use an accountability partner. With that said, there is something to learn from a reduction of traditionally productive activity. A growth that comes in gentle breezes of learning that are interspersed with fewer planned experiences.
Does time shrink? Does it evaporate? It doesn’t appear to be constant in my real world. I accept that fact, but I am unsure of its significance. Sometimes not knowing is OK.