What happened to summer? I turned around for what seemed like a few moments, and when I turned back it was October — grey and damp, with a chill seeping in through the cracks. Mind you, I like the change of seasons: the rusty smells, the leaves catching fire before crashing to the ground, even the dwindling daylight breaking up the monotony of months of bright morning commutes. But September passed by in a rush and a daze; I was constantly behind at work, staying late and taking work home with me. And yet I remember just a few months ago . . . when the students left school at the end of May as the days grew warm and comfortable . . . I remember having reams and stacks of available time, seemingly so much that I couldn’t even keep it all in my office. Time to take care of all of my projects, without haste or error. And now, suddenly, after a month of frenzy, all that extra time is gone? How did that happen?
I’m going to give myself a little credit by acknowledging that this is my first year in this job, so I was not yet familiar with the yearly rhythm of the position. Still, there were plenty of moments over the past few weeks in which I was kicking myself for not spending more of that luxurious July time on what ended up being September projects.
As a species, humans have trouble handling extended excess. Actually, that’s too specifically judgmental. Living creatures in general have trouble handling extended excess. Given the chance, animals will eat themselves into obesity just like humans will. It’s biologically advantageous to take advantage of excess while you can, since in nature excess is fleeting. The specific problem with humans is not the “taking advantage” part; it’s the “extended excess” part. We’re the only species that has developed the ability to extend excess — to create an oversupply of food, to amass substantial quantities of wealth, and to manipulate our schedules to allow long periods of idleness. (Hibernation doesn’t count; it’s actually an activity designed for winter survival.)
Don’t get me wrong; I love being a human and having the ability to extend excess. But when we take it for granted, we end up worse off than we would have been without it. Back when I was a corporate tax attorney, making an (hopefully not literally) ungodly salary, I didn’t pay a tenth of the attention to my budget that I now pay to it. Having an excess of funds seemed to justify any use, even past the point of the excess. I wasted so much that I could have saved or used wisely.
After a rather painful transition period, I internalized the lesson that acknowledging or even artificially creating shortage was a more reliable way to progress than relying on excess. Budgeting gave my family more financial stability than grand income ever did (though of course now I wish I could apply my new budgeting skills to a grander income!). Then I dropped thirty pounds by simply paying attention to net calorie intake — a calorie budget, in effect, creating an artificial shortage.
But I let my guard down and didn’t apply this lesson to time. Rather than enjoying the breathing room the quiet summer had given me — the extended excess of time that living creatures cannot instinctually handle — I should have created another kind of artificial shortage. I could have set earlier internal deadlines or taken on additional projects — the latter may be counterintuitive, but being busier spurs us to greater efficiency. To a point, at least. Finding that point — just the right amount of busyness, so that in the balance of diligent productivity and comfortable pace I find fulfillment — that will be on the top of my project list next summer.