“What’s your greatest fear?”
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard the question. It’s likely a conversation starter that’s been asked at an orientation you were forced to attend, and you’re probably aware that it typically triggers a range of standard responses: heights, spiders and public speaking. Well, as luck would have it, these are all fears of mine, along with needles and rollercoasters.
But if I were being completely honest, I wouldn’t respond with any of these answers. My deepest fear, tugging viciously at the roots of most of my anxieties, is time. Or rather, a lack of it.
Kind of a buzzkill, I know.
When I reflect on my childhood, I can’t remember when I first developed a concept of the limits of time. Was it when I realized that my older siblings only pretended to give me a working Nintendo controller so that I wouldn’t cut into their playtime? Maybe it was the following year, when I marched off my school playground in frustration, contemplating how thwarted I felt when recess had ended just as I started to advance in hide-and-go-seek. Whenever it was, it has since been infringing on every one of my choices, whether I realized it or not.
That’s why it was with great hesitation that I agreed to devote my time to learning the piano in my late elementary school years. After my mom’s incessant pleas, I figured that for her sake, I’d entertain the idea that I might be the next Johann Sebastian Bach (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).
Only a few lessons in, however, I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed making a sloppy melody — but a melody, nonetheless — using the detached keys of an instrument. Pretty soon, I was practicing every day, motivated exclusively by my own passion — until I decided to stop.
It was at the beginning of ninth grade, and for the first time, I was balancing several honors classes. As the pressure of the ever-looming high school grew, I decided I couldn’t play piano anymore.
I had convinced myself that with a heavier workload, I didn’t have enough time. I had enrolled in a rigorous humanities class, and, somehow, excessively annotating my book with empty thoughts disguised in convoluted language seemed more important than doing something that I genuinely loved. So I quit piano, and it was later, for that same reason, that I dropped my second year of AP Studio Art (one of my favorite high school classes) and that I still hadn’t been to a Zumba class. I was afraid I had no time.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how irrational a fear this was.
Before my first semester of college, I couldn’t wait to start fresh. I would make changes, factoring in time for the hobbies I had always pushed aside. As a naive freshman, however, I soon learned what a challenge that would be.
During my first few weeks at UC Berkeley, I found myself eternally floundering. I was consistently behind on readings, and I repeatedly turned down San Francisco adventures and weekend brunches — my logic being that if I completed my work first, I would eventually have the time. But as I kept trying to wait out the adjustment period, I realized that I wasn’t gaining any more time. No matter how hard I studied, there was always more that could be done.
I was working to the point that I had started falling back into my high school routine of counting down the days until the weekend, only to study, stress and repeat. And that was when I realized the irony — the astounding paradox was that in trying to use my time effectively, I was dissipating it, allowing days and weeks to go by without doing the things that made me happy.
What sends chills up my spine is that time seems to be far beyond our realm of control. The fact that it runs constantly is inevitable. But while it is constantly running, it never runs out. We literally have it at all times.
Time is a commodity. A share of it is reserved for every individual, and how you choose to use it is entirely up to you. Even with the 30 or so years of our lives we’ll probably spend sleeping, we have more hours, minutes and seconds than we know what to do with. And if you feel like you don’t have enough time, just rearrange your priorities. It’s not complicated, but it isn’t easy — I’m still learning how to do it.
In the meantime, I find myself jamming out on my dorm’s piano, drawing and staying up late talking to friends — whether or not I have finished all my assignments. The time I reserve to do the things I love is just as important as the time I save for responsibilities. Because in looking back at the way I spent my life, I want to remember the times I felt inspired and connected, not some dull math equation.
Like I said, time is a commodity, and it’s incredibly valuable. And I’m ready to start treating it like it is.