I am fortunate - I am retired and have been so for a number of years, which means that I am free to choose how I spend my time. But we all, within the constraints of jobs and family or other responsibilities, have choices, and it is those choices - what we choose to do or not do - that shape who we become, day by day and choice by choice. This isn't to invite an examination of our pasts - I'm sure we all have some choices we might regret, but that isn't very productive in the here and now except insofar as it helps us understand how we got to where we are now.
The point is to realize that we have choices now, and to make them, as best we can, with attention and intention, rather than letting life just happen to us.
As I approach 60, I'm very conscious of the shortness of time that is life. If I'm blessed with long life, I might have 30 years or so to continue to become. Making choices about where to spend my time, and where not to spend it, has become more important to me as I get older.
My accident with Pie in the summer of 2011 was a big turning point in my life - being seriously injured tends to do that to you. It might just have been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was drifting in a number of ways, including with horses. Sure I was a good rider, and a horse owner who tried to listen to what my horses were telling me, but I wasn't the rider I needed to be, for my horses. I was just dinking around - I had my horses at a self-care barn with no indoor where all my energy went into taking care of their basic needs and where riding was occasional at best due to weather and my level of fatigue from daily care. I was also wasting a lot of time in my life on activities and distractions that weren't really meaningful to me.
So I made the changes that I needed to make - I moved to a barn with daily feeding, turnout and stall cleaning, to free up my energy and time. An indoor means I can ride regardless of weather. I took Pie and Red to my excellent trainer - a student instructor of Mark Rashid's - I'd know her for years - for boot camp for them and me. And I chose to put more time into my riding - a lot more time. I'm a big believer in investing time in things you care about, and spending less time on things that are less important to you, or dropping them altogether. I now have a schedule for my riding, and it's one of my highest priorities - I try to ride each of the three horses 5 times a week. This takes a huge amount of my time, but it's a choice I've made.
And, as I approach 60, I keep in mind Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule - that it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to achieve mastery of a topic or activity. Becoming a master at something - almost anything - isn't just a matter of talent or innate ability - it's more about time invested in a deliberate manner. It doesn't matter much to me if the rule is absolutely true in all areas, since it's still a good guideline and a motivator to action.
10,000 hours, if you invest roughly an hour a day, with some days off - or say 330 days a year - works out to 30 years. If I live to be 90, that means I've got that 30 years left. But even if I don't have 30 years, every hour I spend practicing the things I care about means I'm creeping along on the road. I may not get to be a master, but since there are only a limited number of hours in the day, I try to put my efforts into areas that are important to me. I try to apply this principle as well to things that aren't really skills, but represent choices of how I spend my time.
For example, I've eliminated some things and try to do more of other things. I downsized my living space and possessions - less stuff means less time wasted on stuff. I live very close to my barn, so I can get there in 5 minutes or so. I have a regular schedule for my riding times which shapes my day, although of course there are days I don't or can't ride. Family and friends are a priority - I'm considering taking up real letter-writing again in this age of texting. I try to practice my music - recorder - on a regular schedule, and spend time deliberately listening to music, rather than having it on as background noise. I'm active in my church - it's only a few minutes away - and dedicate regular time to spiritual practice, both practical and meditative. I don't have a television - haven't for years - and rarely watch movies although there are exceptions. I try to limit my internet time (except for blogging, which is a choice for me - I enjoy it and believe it helps me with my riding) and my time with other media - news sites, magazines, newspapers, radio, etc. I spend a lot of time reading books of all sorts - right now I'm working my way through the Booker prize long-list for this year. I try to do most of my own cooking, using real ingredients (I can walk to a farmers' market in season) and avoiding packaged foods - it takes time to do this but it's better for me and for the earth, and I enjoy it.
Keeping in mind the 10,000-hour rule, I've perhaps got the time left to try out some new things and edge my way towards mastery, but even if I have far less time left, new challenges are fun. I'm considering a couple of areas right now, and will give them a try and see how they fit.
Now, these are my choices, and they aren't the same ones you might make. Do you think about the choices you are making right now in your life, about where and how your time should be invested? Does how you spend your time, and who you spend it with, reflect your values and who you want to be and become?
Give thanks! - we all have so much to be thankful for, now and in the days to come.