Please give a warm welcome to Mama PoP for her first post!
Time is that special gift that everyone receives. Some of us get more of it, in terms of longevity, but we all get the same amount on a daily/yearly basis. For me, one of the hallmarks of a happy and successful life is making the best use of your time.
I think that it is easy to become so busy that there is no time to evaluate our use of time. After all, sometimes there is so little discretionary time that it’s not really useful to reflect on how to use it!
But, I’ve got a big birthday coming up (the kind that has a zero at the end and marks some life-changing milestones) and that has allowed/caused me to reflect on what I want to do NEXT. To figure that out, I’ve been thinking through the past and trying to identify the work that was most fulfilling, useful to others, and best contributed to my long term goals.
It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Busiest of Times
When our two youngest boys were born (Mr PoP was one of these babies), I took a leave from my full-time job to raise them. This was without a doubt the happiest time in my life as well as the busiest. We were broke, of course. We shopped at flea markets for the children’s clothing and toys, and lived on venison from the woods adjoining our property and trout that the big boys caught in the local streams and lakes.
(Editor’s Note: The “big boys” here are Mr. PoP’s older brothers who were teenagers when Mr PoP was a baby. They’re now men in their 40’s, but Mama PoP still collectively refers to them as the “big boys” sometimes!)
Papa PoP had a great job with very flexible hours, and our lives were full. He had a huge garden and I cooked and preserved vast quantities of food to save money. Think BIG pots of soup! I don’t remember eating at restaurants or shopping in real stores much during this time, but we didn’t miss it. Papa PoP and the big boys were building our house from the ground up (nailing EVERY nail) and everything was DIY. I guess you could say that we were building our family, building our house, and building our relationship and our happiness in every part of our activities.
And Then I Made Those Times Even Busier
One of the things that made this time of my life so busy beyond all of the family activities was my involvement in an effort to improve the education that was offered to our children.
This volunteer work took up an enormous amount of time and energy but had just a modest and temporary effect. At the time, I believed that I was helping lots of children to get a better education, but it is impossible to know if that really happened. I consoled myself that perhaps our boys would learn from watching that it is worth fighting for things you believe in.
Was Volunteer Work The Best Choice?
In retrospect I think it may have been more efficient to use that time and energy to earn the PhD that I knew I would need to get my next job. Earning the doctorate then would have consumed a similar amount of time and effort, and perhaps I would have re-entered the workforce sooner and with a higher salary.
Does this mean that my volunteer work was not worth doing? Were all of those thousands of hours wasted? I certainly wasn’t earning any money for the family either for current use or for investment. Should I have pursued a more selfish goal?
Note From Mrs. PoP – I hope you’re not beating yourself up about this all these years later, Mama PoP! Hindsight is 20/20, and the eventual success or failure of a volunteer endeavor feels like an inadequate measure of whether or not the time was “well spent”. But for what it’s worth, Mr. PoP definitely remembers your volunteer work with pride and loves to recount the days when his parents told his teachers they were “bad educators!”
How do you determine what is worth doing with your most precious resource, your gift of time?