One day several months ago, long before we were all “safer at home,” I was stuck in traffic. It was the type of traffic where you are just barely inching along and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. There’s no end in sight.
I was stuck… similar to how many of us feel right now.
Traffic has never really bothered me that much. I’ve always figured that it is what it is and since there’s nothing you can do about it, there’s no reason to stress over it. It’s one of the rare, universally-accepted reasons in life to do nothing, like when your flight gets delayed.
The weather was nice on this particular day, and I had my windows down and music up, just riding out the traffic. At some point, I started glancing around at the cars next to me. When you’re in traffic like that, you tend to have the same neighbors for the majority of it.
It was interesting to see how different people were handling the situation. Most people were on their phones, several people just looked super frustrated, and others seemed to have accepted the traffic (like me) and were lost either in thought or music.
I glanced further over to the cars inching up the on-ramp – unlucky newcomers to the traffic jam. Having almost escaped the mess and with little time to adjust to the realization they weren’t going anywhere for a while, these new neighbors were understandably annoyed.
Except for one guy.
He was a young guy in an old beat-up truck; his windows were down, and he was singing at the top of his lungs. He was really getting into it – head swerving, imaginary mic, the works. I couldn’t quite make out the song and curiosity was killing me, so I turned my music off, rolled my window down a little bit more, and leaned as far as I could toward him. The song was, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” A huge smile immediately spread across my face. I was in shock. This guy was young – much younger than me – and that song was old even for me! Yet there he was completely jamming out to it.
It was in that moment that the symbolism hit me.
This situation was just like every other aspect of life that isn’t ideal – you can avoid it by escaping into your phone like so many people were doing, fight it with frustration and anger like most of the rest were, calmly accept it like I was, or make the absolute f*cking most of it like that guy was.
The traffic, of course, eventually cleared and we all went about our busy lives. And that’s the thing – time always moves on. It is fleeting. It is precious. Always.
So looking back at that 45 minutes or so that we were all stuck there together, what did we do with that time? Sure, maybe the phone people responded to a few more emails but in the bigger scheme of things, did that really make a difference in their day? In their lives? Dubious. The angry and frustrated people did nothing but unnecessarily raise their own blood pressure. It’s pretty clear that wasn’t the best use of their time. I guess I got some good, quiet moments of relaxation (and entertainment) in. But the young truck guy jamming out to a random, old song that clearly made him super happy? He’s the true winner of those 45 minutes! He experienced joy. He took time to play. He let loose. All things that studies have proven will actually make us more productive at work and happier in life.
A friend of mine once told me that there are only three things you can do with time – spend it, waste it, or invest it. We spend time when we do all the necessary things in life we have to do, like grocery shopping, paying bills, etc. We waste time when we get sucked into Netflix or social media.
But we invest time when we are doing something for the betterment of ourselves or our relationships.
I think where we often get tripped up is when we think that work is always an investment in ourselves. And while yes, in many cases it is, we also have to diversify our portfolio. When we are constantly investing time in work, we lose chances to buy in on time with friends, parents, significant others, children, and ourselves. Those investments come with immediate gains of love, support, intimacy, and joy.
So the next time you are stuck in traffic – or stuck anywhere – think about what you want to do with that time. Sure, you can waste it being frustrated and annoyed, or spend it zoning out to music. Or, you can invest it into a phone call to a friend or a parent, or perhaps a dance party with yourself.
It is your time and your choice. But for the record, I vote dance party!