Buying Time

April 9, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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People who work hard to convince others that they are either  martyrs and/or victims really annoy me.  That’s why I purchase-time-clockwas completely disgusted with myself when I realized I was doing just that.

I was complaining about being tired because I’d been up doing laundry at 3:00 in the morning.

(I’ve been struggling to meet all the demands life has thrown at me lately, and getting up during the night to throw one load of laundry into the washing machine and another into the dryer was my solution to catching up.)

Unfortunately, I was complaining  a woman who had gotten up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours at the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) about a mistake regarding her daughter’s medical card. When her number was finally called, she spent less than a minute with her case worker, who simply acknowledged the error and said it would be corrected.

That was it.

I was worried about keeping the laundry hampers from overflowing, and she was ensuring her daughter had access to health care. I had gone back to my salaried job a bit tired. She had gone back to an hourly wage job that didn’t pay while she was at DHHR.

I’d lost a couple hours of sleep. She’d lost pay.

Yet people try to claim we all have the same 24 hours.

We  don’t.

I do realize that, technically, there are only 24 hours in each day, and as far as I know, no one gets rewarded with extra hours for doing good deeds or has hours subtracted for bad behavior. But the SAME 24 hours? It’s not even close.

But people who want to feel self-righteous want to pretend the they have achieved “success” with only 24 hours in a day. They insinuate that if others haven’t achieved the same level of success, they haven’t used their 24 hours wisely. This logic is similar to the myth that if low-income people just worked harder, they too could be financially secure. Ironically, some of the hardest working people I know are working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet. And when they aren’t working to earn meager paychecks, they are spending time on tasks that middle and upper class people generally don’t have to worry about doing.

In other words, when you don’t have a decent  income, you just have less time.

You have less time because you spend hours in a laundromat rather than throwing your clothes into a washing machine at home (at 3:00 in the morning).

You have less time because you can’t simply jump in your car when you need to go to the grocery store, to a child’s school program or to work. You depend, and wait, on friends to take you or on public transportation.

You have less time because you don’t have social connections with doctors who can “get you right in” as a favor. Instead, you wait just to get an appointment . . . then you wait in the waiting room.

I first became aware of the “24 hour myth” through my own struggles. I spent hours trying to do things myself that friends with bigger paychecks paid someone else to do.

And sadly, because I bought into the myth that not having extra money meant I wasn’t successful enough or working hard enough, I would pretend that I took satisfaction in “doing it myself.”

Then, at some point, I realized that “doing it myself” was the epitome of hard work.  It just didn’t equate to having more money in my pocket, a bigger house or a nicer car.  But neither did it equate to being a failure.  It did increase my understanding the value of time, and how people who can afford to buy it, do.

They buy it by paying babysitters to watch their children. They buy it by paying people to clean their homes. They buy it by eating at restaurants instead of cooking.  And sometimes they can even buy time by working for businesses that allow them to go on golf outings or to participate in charitable events to build their network and their resume (while lower-income people are generally required to stay at the work site while on the job.)

I can’t judge whether people who have higher salaries use their time more or less wisely than people with lower incomes any more than I can judge whether they work harder.  Like everything else, individual behaviors run the spectrum.  But I do know people with more money have more discretionary time to spend on working more or playing more. And just like discretionary money, it can be wasted or well spent.

As Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

And that is a saying that I can definitely buy into.

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