Having completed my last exam to mark the end of my second year of university, I was expecting to be flooded with an intense feeling of freedom and accomplishment.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, what I had begun to think was just a myth— free time—my mind immediately went to the giant to-do list I have for this summer.
This is both a helpful and dangerous way of thinking, for which I assign credit and/or blame to university.
On one hand, university has done a great job of teaching me the value of time. I don’t have the luxury of spending hours in front of the TV anymore, so when I do have free time, I want to spend it in the richest way possible.
On the other hand, university has created in me a compulsive need to always be doing something productive.
During reading break, I tried to relax with one of my favourite pastimes—Mario Kart. Except I couldn’t just play it, I had to turn it into another to-do list item, where my mission was to unlock every single car, character and track in the game.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in front of the Wii and it was much more stressful than enjoyable.
But I didn’t describe aiming for productivity as a necessarily bad way of thinking, because it’s good to work hard at worthwhile pursuits. I call it dangerous, because when we put too much weight on productivity, we create the potential for making life too busy and routine for us to enjoy its rich and subtle pleasures.
University has also taught me not to make huge generalizations about people, but I’m going to defy that lesson for a moment to tell you there are basically two kinds of people in this world: People who know how to make the most of each day, and everyone else.
And most of us land in the second category. We’ve made our lives so busy that we don’t even have time to stop and think about what carpeing the diem might look like because we’ll be late for work.
But it doesn’t have to mean climbing mountains with National Geographic, abandoning all routine, or taking spontaneous road trips in vans filled with an unnecessary number of dreamcatchers.
If all of us were making the most of life, each of our lives would probably look very different. But they would have one commonality—being purposeful with our time.
Sometimes, this means being busy and productive. Other times, it means making time to enjoy the wonderful things life has to offer that don’t have anything to do with productivity, which can be as simple as closing your eyes and soaking in the feeling of the sun shining on your face, or really looking at the blossoming trees, as if you were seeing them for the very first time.
Maybe carpeing the diem simply means taking Tolstoy’s advice when he said, “Stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”