Here's a useful exercise. Think of an hour in your day where you get to do something discretionary.
Maybe it's watching a great TV show, reading a book, conversing with a loved one, getting ahead on tomorrow's work, or working through your email inbox to get it down to zero.
If you do this thing for an average of one hour per day, then in twenty years you'll have spent 7,300 hours doing that thing.
The hardest word in the preceding paragraphs is the word discretionary. We have such a hard time seeing the discretionary moments in our days, explaining away so many of our hours as things over which we have no control.
- “Well, I've just got to grade these papers.”
- “I've got to handle my kids at night.”
- “I've got to sponsor this club.”
At the root of the word discretionary is the Latin word for discern. It meant “to separate.” By the time it reached Middle English, it had the sense of “judging well.”
It's a telling thing that the use of the word “discernment” has fallen sharply in the past couple hundred years (see figure.) We'd rather have other people do the judging for us — it's much easier, after all, to critique the people who make the decisions than it is to make them for ourselves.
But make no mistake: you and I must decide. The first decision, I think, is to search for all the discretionary moments that fill our days.
So head back to that discretionary hour we started the post with. Twenty years from now, how will you have wanted to spend those 7,300 hours? Watching TV or reading books? Conversing with loved ones or checking email?
Be bold. Thousands of hours of your life are at stake.