Words by Joanita (she/her), 28 NSW

There were a lot of influencers on my Instagram Explore tab that day, but one in particular left me unsettled. She was showing what seems to be a robust data set on her personal life.

“I’m intentional about where I spend my time, because I track what I’m doing 24/7,” she said, pointing at graphs that detailed various things including the amount of sleep, workouts, vegetables, water and time spent on transit – amongst other elements of her day. Everything was tabulated into ratings of her productivity and happiness.

Something is unsettling about her glee as she explained her ‘life tracking’ system – in part because of how much work all this recording seemed to entail, how eerie it is to see one’s life summarised in numbers. But it’s mostly uncomfortable because I could see the point. Granted, I don’t really think counting how many dumps I took in one year would be particularly useful to me, but it makes sense to be conscious about what we spend our time on and whether it contributes to what we want to be.

Author Oliver Burkeman talks about how limited our time is on earth – if we live up to 80 years old, we only have about 4,000 weeks. Instead of trying tricks to ‘maximise’ our time and do everything on offer, he argues, we should make choices about what to focus on and what to neglect.

But how do we decide?

As an adult, there is one thing that people don’t often point out – and it’s how unstructured life can feel. No longer bound by school terms, we can do whatever we want with the time we have and spend it with whomever we want. There are no designated schedules or learning outcomes – you gain from life whatever you make of it.

This freedom comes with the feeling of being untethered. Because there is no one right way to be, sometimes I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing, or if I’m doing it the right way. Some friends have gotten married and had – or are expecting – their first child. Some are travelling all over the country or moving overseas. Some are building and then scrapping their business plans, while others are considering moving industries. When I look at these friends, I imagine they may feel the same way that I do.

As for me, I’m trying to learn a lot of new things and dive deeper into hobbies. I’m doing driving lessons, group fitness classes, and dance courses. I’m trying sewing and painting. I sometimes get frustrated when I don’t pick things up as fast as I’d like to, or when I don’t enjoy an activity as much as I’d expected.

How come I’ve lived this long and still don’t know what I like or dislike? Why does it take so much effort to be passable at something? Would I be able to make something worthwhile out of this eventually?

But I imagine there’s a learning curve to everything. Once I become good enough at driving, I will have to know about car maintenance. My friend who has just had a baby must figure out how to parent, and there will be new things to learn as the baby grows into a toddler, a primary schooler and so on.

“Everyone has their own journey” is not as helpful or comforting a cliché as it sounds. Call it what it is – adulthood is just about dealing with the humbling experience of failing, trying, succeeding and then failing again. I expected that I would be quite accomplished in my career and life at this point, but instead I discover more and more things that I’m terrible at every day.

I know more than I did 8 years ago, when I was 21, but new challenges emerge all the time. And Oliver Burkeman is right – I can’t do it all. My time and energy are finite. I have to pick and choose what I want to do and determine what’s actually meaningful to me.

That eases the sense of urgency somewhat. Once I found something that I truly enjoy or value, I stopped worrying so much about being competent. I’m easily the weakest person at my gym, and the bags I sewed myself look far from Instagram-worthy – but it doesn’t matter.

“James Hollis recommends asking of every significant decision in life: ‘Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?’” Burkeman writes. Even if I’m taking a long time to be good, I’m doing something that matters. Even if I’m facing obstacles or failures, they still make my world bigger.

I’m still figuring some things out and putting myself in different situations, to see which ones feel meaningful and which ones are somebody else’s idea of what’s important and fulfilling. There are activities still that somehow urge me to hurry, that feel like pressure to make something great out of my life, that give me the sense that I’m going to be left behind in the world if I don’t pick up my pace.

It’s times like these that I try to remember that the result is not necessarily the point.

“How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition?” Burkeman says. People can fail in their endeavours even with the best of intentions and effort. I may not ever be the best in class or win awards or gain recognition for being exceptional, but I try my best with what I have to do what I believe in most of the time.

Four thousand weeks may not be a long time – but it’s enough time to work on what we care about the most.


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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