At the end of each year, we are momentarily encouraged to reflect on our lives. While the majority of us don’t stick with our resolutions, the deliberate disruption allows for an honest assessment of who we are and how we can be better.
Reflection, the practice of evaluating the self and the meaning of things, can help us attempt to gain control over our lives.
But what does it mean to “gain control” over our lives? In part, we are in control, when we are able to prioritize our time wisely by reflecting on what is and is not important or meaningful to us. We also need to have the financial, physical, and/or emotional means to act on these desires.
Time is a great (perhaps the greatest) commodity. But many people are forced to spend their minutes in ways they find unfulfilling . According to Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (which I highly recommend), 40% of people in the industrialized world view their jobs as meaningless, as having no real contribution to society.
In mainstream discourse, it is taboo to suggest that the very nature of our society’s constrictive structure — one where we have little control over our time — may contribute to our collective unease. Instead, we are defensively told we’re “free” and should be grateful.
I’d like to propose a thought exercise that pairs reflection with imagination. The combination allows us to envision our lives and the world in a radically different light.
Imagine an ideal world, one where your basic needs are met without stress.
Homes aren’t owned by anyone; rent is non-existent. Large meals may be cooked and shared among a local community. The labor necessary for survival is divided cooperatively and efficiently based on each person’s skills and interests. You are free to take on any project you choose, so long as it does not harm your community.
How do you choose to spend your time in this world? Whose company do you enjoy? What skills do you cultivate? How would you care for yourself and others? How would you contribute to the beauty of the world?
For those of us who spend our time on exposing or destroying oppression, what would you do once the “isms” are gone?
Reflect on how this life compares to yours now. Close your eyes and try to imagine it, write about it, or talk about it with a friend.
It’s okay, and probably completely normal, to struggle with this exercise. The struggle, in itself, illustrates a point. We aren’t used to thinking in these terms, because our society, absurdly, is not organized with the goal of maximizing our collective self-actualization.
We aren’t used to thinking in these terms, because our society, absurdly, is not organized with the goal of maximizing our collective self-actualization.
This exercise is potentially helpful to think through on several levels.
Maybe it sparks a sensation of existential dread that pushes you to transform your Netflix routine into more enriching experiences, like knitting, or gardening, or something (idk!). It allows you to more clearly see what obstacles are preventing you from the life you want.
It inspires me to work toward a world we all deserve. A world planned around what’s meaningful, not profitable.
How many millions have spent, and do spend, their precious time enslaved, drudging through the muddy fields for rulers, or rotting behind prison bars? Bustling in sweltering kitchens for a few bucks? Bored out of their minds on uncomfortable office chairs?
Powerful forces dictate how we spend our time, but as the cliched fish ignorant of the water in which it swims, we can’t always peel apart, or make sense of, these forces. The forces become more apparent once we identify a problem on a local level, and attempt to take matters into our own hands.
For example, someone living in a food desert may plant a vegetable garden in an empty lot near her home that has been abandoned for decades. But, eventually, she gets arrested for her unlawful efforts.
As I write, an outdated talk show bleeds into the cafe. “Studies show 50% of millennials cry at work, or call out of work because their jobs are too stressful,” the self-righteous host remarked. “Parents are babying these children, so once they get real responsibility, they don’t know how to handle it.”
Even if this statistic is true, so what?
The younger generations thirst for a life— a real life — is somehow threatening, to someone powerful.
Someone is fearful that we will recognize our own collective power to take control of our own lives, someday.