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With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Paul Keefer

Feb 28, 2022

When I was younger, I longed for the chance to be free. In the future, I would have the opportunity to be free of my family’s grasp and do anything that I wanted to do. This is a healthy feeling, by the way. But the point was not being away from my family - it was freedom. I desired the autonomy to create my own life and make the final call on big decisions.

For most of my life, I’d say that this has been great, except for one thing. Since I’ve left college, I feel like that freedom of making my own time has been lost. It’s normal, I think, as college is an unrealistic life that is next to impossible to replicate as far as it comes to scheduling. Jobs take up 40+ hours a week, and unless you have a unique situation, college was always much less than that.

Becoming a teacher, I found what everyone else finds when they start their first job away from home: it takes a lot of time. I would say the cliché that “you don’t have a life anymore,” but I would disagree and still preach that I have time to do what I want to do. But it’s different. Time is squeezed, taken, and limited more than it ever was as a student and a kid. To rearrange Uncle Ben’s quote, with great freedom comes great responsibility. In order to have autonomy, you must have responsibility. You are in charge of more things in your life and they all take a lot of time.

My point is that I am setting us up, and I have set myself up, to realize that life doesn’t always shape itself the way we think. It rarely does, and that’s okay. But there’s one thing that I am troubled by, and that is the way that working a job naturally takes away from your time in an unhealthy way. Your time is taken away, simply because we fill it up with an insane schedule of busyness.

If you work a full-time job right now, just think about your time. Unless you are the minority, I would guess that you fill most of the hours of your day outside of your working hours doing something. And by doing something, I don’t mean necessarily productive tasks, but anything, from watching tv shows to cooking to anything and everything else you place in that spot. You find a place for every hour, and if you can, every minute. But what if that is unhealthy? What if the practice of filling our schedule is actually one of the things that are contributing to our problems?

In his book, To Hell With the Hustle, Jeff Bethke talks about margin as the space of help and leverage we need to truly be free. Margin is the time left over, the time unallocated, that helps us be who want to become. In Bethke’s words, “if we allocate 100 percent of our time, we have nothing left over – so if something unexpected happens in our days (which we can count on), we are left trying to rush to the next thing. We are now hurrying ourselves – and those around us.” I don’t know about you, but I have often prided myself on how well I use all of my time. To be fair, sometimes I don’t have a choice, because I’ve gone through some seasons recently (being engaged, for example), which forces me to use all of what I have. But I’m beginning to think that using all of my time is actually something that is hurting me.

I often get to Thursday evening, which I consider the ending of the week, and reflect on how little time I’ve had to slow down. Slowing down has become more and more of a priority in my life, because as I’ve seen life pick up its pace, I want to be able to rest enough to make moments matter. I want to be present in my life, and if I don’t feel rested, that does not occur.

So what can we practically do to improve? The key is obviously not to add something to our schedule. But there are a few things. First, and probably most difficult, is to shift perspective. The goal of life is not to produce and complete, it is to be. Finishing achievements is a byproduct, not a chief concern. We must readily accept that the prominent theme of hustle is slowly killing us, and resisting the urge to live with a hurried mindset will give us life. As Bethke would say, to hell with the hustle. Get rid of it, and live your life with a mindset of forming to be someone, as opposed to achieving goals. Live your life with a vision of who you are forming to be.

You can also start saying no. Resist the busyness that life can bring. Be someone that is proud of their schedule in a way that it brings margin into their life, not more busyness on top of their plate. The extra margin is what gives us the strength to be ourselves, the generosity to help others, the kindness to think outside of yourself, and much more. It could mean waking up earlier to have a bigger time cushion as you start your day, or even sleeping in longer to rest your body in the way it wants. It could be cutting out seven things in your schedule because you know you won’t get to them and it will only make you stressed by the end of the day. You can only do so much with each season of your life, after all, and if you’re so busy that you can’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

At the end of the day, your life is up to you. I don’t know how busy you are or how free you are, but either way, you should think about your freedom. With that great freedom comes the responsibility to live a life that is both productive and joyful. Adventurous and restful. You can be busy, but don’t forget to have enough margin to enjoy your life and make it meaningful.

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