Sunday, June 7, 2020

Measuring Life in Three Hour Increments

How do you measure your life?

As a lawyer, I learned early on that each workday was subject to its measurement in six minute increments. That is, generally, we legal types (as well as many others in service industries) seem tethered to the concept of what is called the “billable hour”. Lawyers routinely record their time spent working on a particular matter/file.  Then, their clients are sent invoices showing the number of hours of work performed, multiplied by the hourly rate of the professional.  The hourly rate is usually based on seniority, expertise and market conditions. In this way, the quantity of legal services provided can be measured, albeit somewhat subjectively. But the quality of the billable time is much more difficult to assess. Not all billable hours are equal.

I think most people tend to rely on quantitative intervals or measurements. These include not only increments of time but everything in life from monetary values (salary, cost of gas, bank accounts, and debt) to the number of “likes” we get on our Facebook page. The disruption of these fixed points on our calendar or other quantitative measurements can cause us to feel anxious, uncertain and insecure. At times, especially during this coronavirus pandemic era, days (and even weeks) slip by, blending into each other without much notice. Viewed from a quantitative perspective, life itself is evaporating one day, hour or even minute at a time.

During these recent pandemic days, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of evaluating my life based on qualitative assessments, not the quantity of time spent here and there. I find that, just as it is difficult to measure the quality of a billable hour, appraising one’s life subjectively is very challenging, as well as convicting. This process demands that just as we spend our money on what we deem to be important to us, how we spend our time (life’s ultimate nonrenewable resource) reveals our priorities.

I cannot measure the beauty of a sunset, the warmth of a baby sleeping in my arms, or the smell of freshly baked bread, but I can continuously ask myself, “Have I spent my time simply calculating life’s quantitative elements (such as age), or am I truly living out my life priorities?”  For me, this is not just an existential exercise. It is grappling with the very practical question, “How can I live more purposefully?”

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