“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” — Jack London
In the most recent James Bond film, No Time to Die, this quote by Jack London was used to describe the life of the international super spy. From the moment I heard it in the theater, it’s struck me as significant. Most of life today encourages us to prolong our time. We are fed the claim there’s nothing better than to enjoy consuming more and more, getting the best of life means buying and having the best of the things we see advertised around use.
Even the Bond franchise plays a role here. Wouldn’t you life a fuller life if you owned the watch Bond wears? You can, just order from Omega or Rolex and it too can be yours.
Don’t mistake me, I like buying expensive cool stuff. I’m writing this article on a MacBook Pro. However, buying things, owning things, is not using time. It’s letting others use your time. Your time is your responsibility. How you spend it defines who you are and who you become.
London spoke this quote from a life filled with adventure, lived on the edge of life and society. He didn’t question what could happen, he acted in it. Among his notable accomplishments were living as a hobo, discovering gold in Alaska, serving as a War correspondent, and running his own ranch. The actions of his life were centered around pushing what time he had to the limit.
This quote has challenged me to ask if I’ve existed or lived, if I’ve been using my time. Have I purposefully used my life to date? It’s valid to ask, I am principally someone who enjoys theory more than action, an idea to a deed. Using time, is a matter of deeds, not good intentions.
It reminds me in many ways of the parable of the talents in the Bible. Several men were given different amounts of money by their employer, most invested it in some purpose to create more money for their master. One servant, decided to bury the money. When he dug it back up, none of it was lost, but nothing had been gained by him having the use of it.
When the Master had the same sum returned as he gave, he was angry and chastised the servant for not being willing to do something with what he had been entrusted. Losing can be forgiven, but being afraid to take a risk to begin with is cowardice itself.
We don’t have the option of our time remaining as it is. It will be spent regardless of how we spend it.
The way you use the time you have defines you. Defines your Identity, your Attitude, and your Life.
Time as Identity
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear makes a point I think we too often forget which is the person we are is based on our habits. The time we have spent taking actions which in total form an identity.
Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. If you go to church every Sunday for twenty years, you have evidence you are religious. If you study biology for one hour every night, you have evidence you are studious. If you go the gym even when it’s snowing, you have evidence that you are committed to fitness.
If I want to assume the identity of a writer, it is based on the time I have spent writing and publishing things which are read by others. A lawyer is defined by the practice of the law, or an athlete by the sport they pursue. It’s all based on the time you’ve given to the endeavor.
When people say they don’t like their life, describing it as boring, dull, or uninteresting. I tend to be skeptical. Their actions are what define this existence. The lives they lead are boring, dull or uninteresting because they have not chosen to take actions which would change it.
In their misery, they expect a wise old wizard to appear out of nowhere to suggest they go on an adventure to find dragon’s gold. They expect a mysterious package to arrive on their doorstep. In short, they expect adventure to fall on their lap without taking the actions required to pursue one themselves.
I am just as guilty of this as anyone. I’d love to have someone propose an adventure to me instead of seeking it on my own, but more often it does take initiative on our parts to find the exciting things of life. Sounds simple, because it is that simple.
Theodore Roosevelt lived the heights of the adventurous life because he went out and did those things. He didn’t wait for someone to invite him to go on an African Safari, he went and did it. It wasn’t a question of maybe becoming a rancher in North Dakota, he bought a ranch and did it. He explored the Amazon river, boxed against professionals and became the President of the United States. Everything he did and became, the legend of Roosevelt was born from him taking action and doing things.
You want to become someone more exciting, who’s life is legend, and exploits the stuff of stories? It is based on how you use your time.
Time as Attitude
When considering prolonging life, it’s painful to think of those who in advanced age choose to do less and less, who spend a considerable amount of time just trying to live, without actually living. Health gurus who preach a life of such austerity and discipline it ceases to be lived beyond the gym or meal prepping.
Using your time in living requires accepting uncertainty, it requires letting go of fear. If the worst which can happen is death, why regret living life? All men die, and while this shouldn’t be an excuse for recklessness, it should discourage reluctance. The Stoics preached the idea of Memento Mori, to remember you will die. In the light of that knowledge, you were expected to do more with the time you had to live.
In the wake of the pandemic, I have been shocked to see the amount of people out there who are panicked and afraid. Afraid as if this is a black plague, or an invasion or terrorist attack. Fear is the least profitable reaction anyone can take. It exists to preserve our lives, but is quick to overreact, and quick to encourage the minimum of human virtue. Wherever you fall in the beliefs or convictions of the pandemic, we should agree fear is the worst reaction to take to anything in life.
The choice to live, to act, to struggle instead of working to prolong, is the attitude of great leaders. The attitude of a warrior. The attitude of the opportunist.
Time as Life
All things end. Life decays and age takes away the strength of youth. The majority of us choose to ignore this natural course of existence, quietly living in disbelief until our bones ache and skin wrinkles. We live quiet lives in hopes death forgets about us. Instead, it only makes the sound of our tolling bell all the louder.
The life of settled ease and quiet living may allow you a life long lived, but quite possibly empty and dark when it ends. The deeds of the mighty were passed by in favor of preserving a life which we meant to mean something when we passed, but never got around to it.
Banal existence is not living, persisting for the sake of drawing another breath without purpose is not a life. Survival as an end only matters if there is no purpose to it. The idea of living to fight another day matters if you will fight, not hide.
In the final stanza of Edmund Vance Cook’s poem How Did You Die? He leaves us with these thoughts.
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
The end is inevitable. We cannot escape or outrun it. How we choose to live in the time we have defines the quality of our lives. Our time may be used to pursue things of pleasure, delighting our senses in hedonistic glee, or it could be put to a purpose which matters more than our own short existence.
It is all a question of how you will use your time.