28 May 2014

Time is Money

Rouge & Cake aux Epices // Personal photo

Ever since I was little, I heard this expression: "time is money". Usually in the context of "don't make me waste my time, you are making me lose money". It is a strong symbol of our society: it means the best use of our time is to make more money. Anything else is a waste of time. Well, I beg to differ.

There was a polemic some time ago in France. The communication advisor Jacques Séguéla said on TV, some five years ago:

Si à 50 ans on n'a pas une Rolex, on a raté sa vie.
If at age 50, one doesn't own a Rolex, it means their life is a failure.

Given the number of people around the world who don't own a Rolex despite being over 50, you can imagine how much of a polemic that raised. I believe that, just like "time is money", this little sentence says a lot about today's society and its general values. Of course, after this polemic, Séguéla tried to explain himself, saying he meant you should be able to offer yourself whatever you want at 50, if your life was a success.

While I can understand the concept - at 50, you have accomplished a lot, and you should be close to how you want your life to be. What I'm seriously questioning here, is the fact that success as defined by Séguéla, is being able to afford whatever you want to buy. The symbol of it being an incredibly expensive watch - which is ironically within topic here, with a Rolex watch, time IS money. A lot of it.

But is success really defined by how much money you have, by being able to have whatever you want?

The high levels of stress and low levels of happiness in rich "Western" countries tend to prove otherwise. Unless success is defined by having money, whatever it costs in terms of health and well-being.

This traditional vision of success is starting to be questioned these days. In France, there is this phenomenon, of 30 somethings who did everything by the book - business schools, high profile desk jobs, decent salary (for most at least) - but feel cheated because they didn't receive the happiness that was promised to them if they followed these rails.

Some of them enter grave depressions, others quit their jobs and open farms or travel the world. But they understood that the model of success promoted by society isn't working for them. They don't believe that their life will be a failure if they don't own a Rolex by age 50. They find success, and happiness/contentment, elsewhere. For those who can get out of depression, that is.

Now, how could we define success if it isn't spending our time making as much money as possible, so that we can buy whatever we want?

In the Huffington Post's Third Metric, Daniel C. Baker asks: what is success? He too, explains how society models a certain type of success for us, that we should follow - success as measured by how much money we have. But he questions the validity of this traditional success:

I had no idea that behind the veil of a "successful" appearance, for many people, there could be a mountain of turmoil and unhappiness.

I have often found myself overworked, sleep deprived, neglecting my family and friends and tolerating a general state of unhappiness, all in pursuit of somebody else's version of "success".

If having as much money and as many possessions as possible - preferably possessions with a high social symbol value, such as a Rolex - is someone else's version of success, then what is yours?

Money is Time

I can't quite answer for you, but I can give you an idea of what I've come to belive my version of success is. I would like to offer you the opposite mantra: "Money is Time". All the hours you spend at your job earning money, is time you give away to your employer - if you don't enjoy, or grow at your job, that is.

In 2007, soon to become French president Sarkozy based his presidential campaign on one slogan:

Travailler plus pour gagner plus.
Work more to earn more.

In the face of French citizens becoming poorer, and since most of us worked 35 hours a week, his idea was to encourage us to work extra hours to get extra money. Money earned from extra hours wouldn't be taxed. And I remember thinking: " I don't want to work more to earn more, then I won't even have time to spend that extra money". Daniel Baker seems to agree when he says:

It seems that one of the most important factors, more than money and things, is the ownership of my own time. It might just be the most crucial thing of all. I have to be free to pursue what I believe to be right, what I think is most important.

I think time is a more precious currency than money is. Time is all you have in your life, but it is also the one thing you can never get back. What good is money if you don't have time to enjoy it anyway?

I believe success is becoming who you want to be, becoming who you really are inside. And I don't think you can grow to become that person if you don't have time to level up. Figuring out your goals, wishes, the motivations that really drives you from the heart, then work toward these goals, honing your skills, your relationships...

All of this takes time, and while you are spending all that time getting more money because "time is money", you end up at 50, Rolex at your arm (if you're lucky), having accomplished nothing else than what's on your bank account. Unless your most inner dream is to own a Rolex, chances are it went unfulfilled.

Making Time

I have read several times that "you don't find time for what really matters, you make time". Especially in our busy society, free time doesn't just pop up in our agenda, we have to block time to work on our priorities.

It is said that our real priorities are wherever we spend our money, I say our real priorities are whatever we spend our time doing. Without going into career makeover, let's start with our free time. Is your life priority really facebook or TV? When something really matters, we make time for it. I guess it starts with asking oneself what does really matter in the first place. It can be family, travel, time spent with friends, but it can also be a project, writing, music...

For example, I know that one thing that really matters to me is writing. I have started writing poems, short stories and chapter one of novels since I was 8 years old. As Elizabeth Gilbert would say, writing is my home. I imagine myself at age 50, and I would feel successful if I have written even a fraction of all that floats around in my head.

I don't care much for Rolex watches, and, to be honest, I don't care much about earning money from my writing either, but I care about making time for that. And if, at age 50, all I have to show for is a few childhood poems, half assed short stories and a dozen of unfinished novels, I will feel like I have failed. Even if I somehow managed to get a Rolex watch on my wrist.

On the contrary, if at age 50, I've had a rather average career because I decided to "work less to earn less", no Rolex anywhere to be seen, but have managed to write, and even publish, some of the short story collections and novels I have in my mind (and on my drafts today), I will feel successful. Even if I never get famous, even if I never make money out of these.

I don't really know where I wanted to go with this post. Talking about time and money, about the definition of success maybe? Maybe because I'm slowly leaving my 20s, that defining decade, and start wondering what I really want to do with my life?

As a conclusion, I'll say that in my opinion, you make your own definition of success. It might be as an unknown writer, as a housewife (or husband) of a large family, or even as a Rolex owning CEO, but in any case, you shouldn't let society tell you what success is. You should find your own success, then make time to reach it. Imagine yourself at age 50 (or 70, or 90, if you are reaching 50 already), what would really make you feel accomplished?


  1. This reminds me of an article I read a few weeks ago that dealt with status symbols and how they have changed through the years. At one point it was a colour TV, traveling abroad or playing golf. The article focused on three different people to show some of the status symbols of our time. One of them an entrepreneur who only works Monday to Thursday and is able to have Fridays off when most people have to work (so free time being the valuable thing here). Another one makes traditional home cooked meals and apparently one of the status symbols of our time is having the knowledge to cook these good, traditional meals (that don't even require a lot of money) that many people don't know how to make anymore. And finally, to own heirloom furniture etc. that have been passed down for generations.

    What I most related to was the second one: the knowledge to cook traditional meals. During this year I've become extremely interested and enthusiastic about cooking and baking and my dream is to be a super amazing cook and baker at the home. I wouldn't want to make a career of it, but it is nonetheless something I really want to become really good at :)

    1. That's very interesting, I have never read about social status symbols being anything else than luxury items or the size of the house in recent years. It is true that it can be considered a privilege not to work on Friday. I remember the family dentist we had when I was a child decided to only work half time at some point in his career, when he had enough patients and popularity. That way he could help a young dentist launch is career by offering him to work the other half of hte time at his cabinet, and he himself could enjoy his time off.

      At first I wouldn't think home cooked meals are any kind of status symbol in France, as cooking is a part of our culture and most people still cook. But I agree that buying fresh produce and cooking them at home instead of buying a ready-made dish to warm up in the microwave could be a social symbol indeed.

      I have also noticed there is a sort of cultural "status symbol" going on in some social classes. Knowing about obscure films or music bands, being knowledgable about certain subjects, having gone to see this exhibit or that theater piece... I think it can be interesting if it makes people discover new things and nurture their cultural background, but I also saw some people having a list of "must-watch" or "must-read" dictated by society, and they'd consume these cultural pieces just to "fit in", without questioning or being critical with anything, and that's a shame...

    2. I think the status of having seen certain movies, plays or exhibitions and knowing about sertain bands, for example, also falls under the current luxury status of free time. Theatres and (some) museums cost money to go to, and visiting them means that you must have that kind of extra money to spend, but in addition, you have to have the time to go to all these things. So what a person is really saying about themselves when they say they do all these things (and I'm assuming that we are talking about a clearly well-to-do person, financially) is that they are making lots of money but still have enough free time to do all these things.In other words, "my salary is larger than your salary, because I don't have to work as much to earn the same as you."

  2. This is really thought provoking. I will ponder on it more, but I don't have time right now because I'm trying desperately to break out of the cycle of too much work. :)

    1. I'm glad to be able to provoke thoughts ;) I'm also in the middle of reassessing my priorities after having done everything for my career until now, so I can relate. Good luck in dealing with your work life :)

  3. Success for me at this age--
    - Financial independence (I want to be able to afford to live on my own, and with my current salary I can't do that yet)
    - Some kind of romantic relationship trending toward a more stable commitment (marriage?) Not gonna lie, the societal pressure to be not alone/coupled up is STRONG in the late 20s, where I am right now.
    - Having a cat or a dog (I think cats are hilarious, but dogs can come on a run with me.) See point above. With such nebulousness, it'd be nice to have a relationship where I will never doubt that I am loved--even if it's because I am the bearer of food.
    - Travel to Japan and Ireland. I want to see the world before I'm too tired to haul all over the place.

    I can't speak to long-term successes, but I'd want a family and more of the comfortable job/career to finance my awesome future life with my adventure-partner-in-crime, our derpy cat, and the possible spawn we might produce from such a terrible unholy union.

    (if I put it on the Internet, it might come true, right?) T_T

    1. All of that sounds like perfectly reasonable goals, I'm sure it will come true :) I don't think you should let yourself be pressured to find someone if the right person hasn't come along yet. I'm the kind of person who believes it comes when it's supposed to, and to enjoy single life in the meantime... Also, I have seen so many people form a couple just because they "shouldn't be alone" and made each other miserable.

      Anyway, I'm sure you are on the right track, these things fall into place one by one in late 20s/early 30s. I think it's a cycle too - my goal has been financial independence for a long while, and now that I have it (barely, but still), my priorities are shifting back to building a family and staying in touch with friends. Maybe it's just like the cycle of habits, we focus on a certain part of our life at once...

  4. You are so right about the "money is time" thing. After having a mini mental breakdown 2 years ago at my very stressful job in healthcare, I went from working 40+ hours per week to only 32 hours (I had a doctor's note to back me up). It was the best decision I've ever made. The truly great thing about working less is that not only are you spending less time at work, you're also spending MORE time with your family or friends or just doing things you want to do. So the 20% reduction in my work week has led to a proportionately larger improvement in my well-being, though that's hard to measure objectively. The bottom line is that I'm definitely happier and enjoy life more. I also have a colleague who has been "weaning" himself off work, as he puts it, over a couple of decades. He currently works only 14 hours per week and is the most "zen" person I know in our field. I realize that we are fortunate to have had the option to reduce our hours as not everyone has the type of job or the income to accommodate that. But to anyone who is considering it as an option, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Money doesn't necessarily lead to happiness, but enough time spent in the right way definitely does! Thank you for this thought-provoking (and in my case very validating) piece!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! I like what you say about "enough time spent the right way does lead to happiness". I totally agree with that. It is true that working less hours isn't always easy - because full time salaries are already low, and because some jobs just don't offer this as an option. But a first start can be to refuse extra hours unless there is a real emergency, and protect our off time - I mean, with smartphones and e-mail you could be working all week-end long, in certain types of jobs. And I noticed the more you give to an employer, the more he asks... I have to admit we are lucky in France, as we work roughly 35-38 hours a week, and we have a lot of paid holidays. But I agree that a second step could be to work 90 or 80%, and have an extra day off during the week to focus on what really matters in life. I can imagine that, especially in healthcare, being able to rest is so important. Thanks again for sharing your opinion and experience on the matter :)

  5. This is the first time I have ever responded to a post, although I follow a number of blogs. Firstly, thank you for all of your writing. Secondly, I think you are on the right track. Another way to work with your question is to see the choices before you as either based on ego or based on your deepest heart's desires. The former creates undue tension and a fear-based reality. The latter is, in my experience, born out of silence (much like the writing process). Its hallmarks are love or joy-based and creative tension that feels manageable.

    1. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this. I hadn't seen things that way, but it makes total sense. A lot of "society-driven" choices are based on ego - building a successful career that will be recognized by peers, buying expensive items to show off a status symbol etc. I feel that this blind pursuit makes us deaf to our deepest wishes and desires, what really drives us from the inside.

      In her talk about writing, Elizabeth Gilberts mentions ego, and says that she would have stopped writing a long time ago if her decision was based on ego - as her manuscripts kept being rejected over and over again for 6 years, which is quite a blow to the ego :) But she says that she just went back to writing, because that's what made sense to her deep inside, to keep writing no matter what. She says finding your deepest heart desire is to find something you love more than you love yourself.

      And I agree with you, this kind of "authentic" pursuits from the heart makes difficulties more manageable, it creates an inner strength, whereas, in my experience, making choices based on ego, and the external image we want to give to others, leads to inner conflict, tension and fear of rejection to not living up to the other's expectations as imagined by our ego.

      Anyway, thanks for this thought provoking comment, definitely something to ponder further!

  6. Everything about this, thank you. I am going to write on this in my journal and flesh out my response more. I already know what would pain me at 50 to not have done...just like you I would be more upset if I didn't at least have a few drafts of novels and poems on paper rather than in my head. It isn't about getting it published, its about giving it the time it deserves to nurture the writer inside.

    THANK YOU for this reminder!

    1. Thank you for letting me know it helps, I'm so happy to be able to being some value to readers :) I totally agree with you on that - I think Elizabeth Gilbert's talk was the catalyst for me: she says she started sending pieces to the New Yorker when she was a teenager in the hope to be noticed, and that, in her 20s, she sent manuscripts to publishers for 6 years, with only rejections. And it made me realize that at age 28, I hadn't even sent a single piece anywhere. Again, my goal isn't necessarily to be "noticed", published and make money out of it, but all the work she had already poured in her writing at my age, while I am sitting with friends, talking about my novel ideas but always saying "I'll start during my next holiday", or "I'll start when that big event at work will be done" and in the end never starting at all. So I decided to make time, as you say, to nurture the writer inside. I hope we'll both make time to write more from now on :)

  7. Yes! I feel like my friends and I have been discussing this a lot recently. Especially since a lot of us are also coming to the end of our twenties and have a feeling of "okay, now what?" and "this is it?". I think the culture is shifting and the pursuit of money is no longer enough.

    Anyway, yes to everything you wrote. http://reactiongifs.com/?p=7311
    I have nothing more to add :)

    1. That's interesting that I'm not the only one in my late twenties pondering these subjects with my friends. Sometimes I wonder what kind of world we will make in the coming years. Even when I speak with my father for example, it seems the mindset and priorities are starting to change from one generation to the other...

  8. There is a more insidious facet to "work more to earn more". In America, at least, there is a popular strand of political discourse propagated by the right that claims that if you're not wealthy, it's because you're lazy.

    1. Really? I guess that's the other side of "the American Dream". If anyone can be successful by working hard, then the ones who didn't get successful have to be lazy right? That kind of discourse can be very demotivating indeed...

  9. I am still struggling with defining my life purpose, setting and accomplishing goals … I have found that I’m just not the type to pursue one dream. Currently I’m thinking it might be best for me to just take things as they come for now. To read up on stuff that interests me and develop skills that I’m drawn to, even though these things might not clearly point me into a specific direction. And maybe at some point there will be an opportunity for me to use all or just some of these skills – but if there isn’t, at least I’ve had fun in the mean time. So I’m guessing my current definition of success is being able to balance work (the fact that I’m lucky to have a meaningful job doesn’t mean that my life revolves around it) and life in a manner that allows me to pursue my favourite activities and even taken on some new challenges.
    On time and money: I find the two very closely related, but in a complex way. Whenever I think I don’t have enough money (to buy the house of my dreams, to travel, to be able to afford more time off …) I think of an article I once read. It said that once you earn enough money to be unconcerned about basic survival, most people, NO MATTER HOW MUCH MONEY THEY ACTUALLY MAKE, do not consider themselves actually rich. Poor people might consider me rich. I might consider some big-shot lawyer rich, while he may actually think he’s not that rich because he’s comparing with even wealthier men and so on. This is clear proof that the single-minded pursuit of money is never-ending and thus useless. I have made up my mind that I currently earn enough money and therefore will not sacrifice more time and/or my values just for a bigger paycheck. (It's sometimes hard to remain content though, as we are constantly reminded by society that we should compare with our peers and strive for bigger and better!)

    1. When I saw that talk from writer Elizabeth Gilbert, I wondered if everyone had a single inner dream, the "home" she talks about. I think we can be interested in a lot of things and it's possible to reassess life priorities without necessarily having one single "dream" to pursue. I like how your mindset fosters growth - learning new things that you like, doing new activities...

      I also read similar studies about the correlation between happiness and money. When I hear people making 2 or 3 times more than I do complaining that they don't have enough, it makes me understand that, as long as we have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge, and enough to pay for necessities and emergencies, "enough money" is a state of mind.

      But I wonder if it isn't a frog in the boiling water thing: you don't get a sudden and enormous raise at a time, usually income increases little by little over the years, and maybe people don't realize that they are spending more as they earn more, therefore still feel like they don't have quite enough. Maybe because society tells us that success is money too, and staying at the same salary for years is perceived as failure? Probably a mix of all that...

  10. Everyone has a different version of success - for some it's money, for others it's independence, for other's it's a vibrant family life, etc. I've been working on a project based on RIchard Shell's book about success, Springboard. He has an exercise that asks you to prioritize your top lives below:
    As you can see they all come with some tradeoffs, and everyone will have a different answer. And that's life!

    1. Thanks for this link, that's an amazing exercise. I happen to have picked the Stone Mason as first choice, maybe it means I need to balance my life towards more inner goals indeed. It is true they all come with tradeoffs though, but life is about choices indeed. I think unhappiness in linked a lot to misjudging our own priorities and making questionable choices in consequence. (personally questionable, not objectively bad, it would be too easy) At least, that is certainly the case for myself.