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Lessons from The Twilight Zone

I went for a hike on Thursday morning, and I didn't feel guilty!

When I was a kid, there were three channels on TV; at midnight, all the channels went off air until programming started again in the morning. Even with only three channels and 18 hours in the TV day, there was still not enough programming to have new content all the time. To fill the air the networks ran a lot of older TV shows (and when I say old, I mean old). So, like many in my generation (Gen X), I grew up on "classics" like Abbot and Costello, The Little Rascals, and The Twilight Zone. 

The Twilight Zone episode I remember most vividly was from 1959 with a young(er) Burgess Meredith (was he ever young?). The episode was "Time Enough At Last." It is about Mr. Henry Bemis. All Henry wants to do is read, but life gets in the way, and he barely has time to do what he loves most. One day while reading in the bank vault (as one does), nuclear Armageddon occurs, and he is the only survivor (good thing he happened to be reading in the nuclear-proof bank vault). In his moment of despair, when he realizes he is the last person alive, he notices a library with all its books intact; he can now do what he always wanted to do but never had time for. He will no longer be bothered by his demanding boss and belittling wife; he could read books until his heart is content. 

Of course, in the typical cruel Twilight Zone twist of fate, the visually impaired man slips, falls and breaks his glasses, and he cries in anguish:

"That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was—was all the time I needed…! It's not fair! It's not fair!"

While not quite nuclear Armageddon, we are living in scary times, and for many of us, we find ourselves stuck in our homes with more time on our hands than we are used to. Like Mr. Bemis, we should be, metaphorically speaking, reading all the books we always wanted to read. 

We can now focus on those things we may have felt we didn't have time for; exercise, reading, upgrading our skills, connecting with people, spending time with family, mapping out our finances & goals, pivoting our business or career, and the list goes on (and on and on).

Yet, I find myself, and see many around me, falling into two negative loops that prevent us from fully realizing this opportunity:

  • Worry-Despair Loop –I often find myself spending way too much time watching and reading the latest news, creating my own spreadsheets of virus growth (that's normal, right?); joining various texts, message and social media groups joking and commiserating; thinking about my daughter who had to cancel her wedding and my son's senior year of high school ruined;  potential financial ruin; friends who are sick; people who are dying; and feeling that there may not be a good way out of this (rinse and repeat). 

  • Time Guilt Loop- feeling that time I am using for certain things is not a good use of time because I should be doing something "more productive" with no clear definition of what that is, and spending time in an even more useless fashion (rinse and repeat).

Winston Churchill said, "never let a good crisis go to waste," (no, it was not a Rahm Emmanual original), this crisis will not last forever, are you wasting it? We will get back to running 100 miles an hour and when you look back, will you have been robbed of this time due to the worry-despair and time guilt loops?  

So, what am I doing to break these loops:

  • Worry-Despair- We all know there is no value in obsessing over things we do not control (easier said than done). I have begun limiting my time watching and reading the news, the reality of it is you probably need no more than 30 minutes every couple of days to stay up to date as it is just the same thing repeated over and over again. I try to spend as little time as possible obsessing over the things I can't control and pivot to what I can control. Admittedly, as a recovering neurotic New Yorker and general pessimist, this is not an easy task, but the first step is awareness!

  • Time Guilt- I am working on losing the guilt that accompanies doing things that make me feel that I am not being "productive," a hike, a good book, calling a former colleague, taking an online class, or binging Tiger King (ok maybe the last one goes a bit too far).  I am trying to give myself permission to do the things that I wanted to do but didn't have the time for, though I must admit I am fighting some pangs of guilt spending so much time writing this article.

Don't let the worry-despair and time guilt loops be your broken glasses. You don't want to end up like Henry Bemis, saying:

"That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was—was all the time I needed…! It's not fair! It's not fair!"

*This was mostly written to help me think through my particular situation and hopefully provoke thought for those in similar situations. I realize this does not apply to everyone. Many are busier than ever due to the extraordinary circumstances created by this crisis. That being said, I would argue that fighting these two negative loops is still relevant.

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