Time Is All We Have

I’ve come to think that getting bored only means you’ve failed to master the fine art of doing nothing when there’s nothing to be done: a skill you can learn from any house cat.

~John Gierach, Fool’s Paradise

I think my perspective on boredom must be quite different from that of most other folks. Especially during this coronavirus pandemic, I’ve heard and read more people complaining about being bored than makes any sense to me. Granted, the coronavirus has taken much from us. It’s taken our certainty. It’s taken our sense of safety. It’s taken away the lion’s share of our up-close-and-personal interaction. It’s taken away convenience and material abundance. For some of us, at least temporarily, it’s taken away our livelihoods.

But it’s given us the one thing of which we can never have enough: time.

I’m bored when I have too many demands on my time. I’m bored when each day is a patterned repeat of the day before it. I’m bored in any day that doesn’t present a wide variety of activities that enable me to shift gears, to do different things, to explore different ideas, to evaluate new concepts, to think and talk and write, to be creative, strategic, and tactical.

I’m not bored when there’s time to do all of those things. And I’m not bored when there’s time in which I have to do none of those things. That time is mine. And I revel in it.

Time is All We Have

So, here we are. Courtesy of the coronavirus, we have more time available to us than perhaps at any other time in our adult lives. It’s ours. It’s enforced. It’s up to us to make the most of it. And since we’re in our adult lives, the best thing we can to with this time is to act like children:

Wonder. Imagine. Dream. Create. Shake the shackles of psychological limits, of societal norms and expectations. Go out on some limbs. Take some risks and savor the rewards.

As I wrote in The One and Only Ben:

“In fact, I’d say you’re blessed, my boy, with all that you possess.

So, go and write a poem. Build a rocket. Play some chess.

Create your life with joy and hope. There’s nothing you can’t do.

These animals might have their gifts. But none of them is you.”

Is the coronavirus horrible? Yes. Must we protect ourselves and each other from infection? Yes. Will we ever have time and opportunity like this again? Likely not.

Time is all we have. Let’s make the most of it.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Being super busy has become almost a social obligation. We complain of too many commitments, but we are also competing to see who has the most. Being busy is a status, it makes us feel important. We use this excuse because we lack the fundamental condition of listening, which is that to be always available to others, always eager to welcome them and make them good. In fact, it is not a matter of time: it is an interior disposition!!
    Time is nothing but the stuff of which each one has made his/her lives and wasting it actually means wasting own existence. It’s time to get our time back. Optimizing time means primarily to understand where we are wasting our most important resource (mistakes, useless activities, but that make it easy and give us that illusory sense of security and tranquility, pathological perfectionism, etc.).
    All right, the period we are living in is new for all of us. As such, it requires to be metabolized and digested, a process that does not happen overnight. Also, living in a society of well-being, things get even more complicated for us because we are used to living in ease, to have our freedoms and our rights. For us, renunciation is almost unacceptable.
    In this regard, we could learn the art of not complaining, not self-pitying, from those who have acquired a wisdom that only experience can give you; these are our grandparents, our elders or the people who have faced real difficulties in life (e.g. serious illnesses, own or loved ones, violence, wars, etc.).
    And then, you can try to take advantage of this moment positively and with confidence. For example, we could: cultivate the most important relationships for us, with friends and family; dealing with relationships and situations that we usually leave out; adopt relaxation and meditation techniques (there are very valid Applications); study and take care of your personal growth (online offers a series of training courses that we can use in the present for the future);
    take care of practical and concrete work at home, keep your mind busy and make us feel useful; brush up on personal passions and talents, be creative.
    Keeping busy isn’t difficult. It is difficult to carve out some time when you have to work, manage your home and family, deal with traffic, use public transport, planes, time zones etc.
    Seneca said::”The stupidity of men is such that we feel indebted for insignificant things and worthless, always countervailable however, and no one feels in debt for the time that remove to the other; precisely the time that is the only thing that even the most grateful cannot return”.

    • Aldo, you’ve done it again. I’m very grateful for the articulate wisdom in the entirety of your comments. But this stopped me cold: “pathological perfectionism.” Wow. What a phrase.

      I’ve been guilty of that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to move past it, to appreciate what I’ve done and what I’ve created, to accept the flaws I perceive in what I’ve done as evidence of my humanity, of my vulnerability, of my fallibility. There is no perfection. There can only be perfect attempts — sincere, fully invested, genuine. The judgment of those attempts should be left to others. We, on the other hand, should be on to our next attempts.

      I’m grateful, yet again, for our connection. And I’m grateful, as always, for your comments and for your generosity with your time.

    • Thanks for dedicating your precious time to my gimcrack considerations. I appreciate your feedback and support!.
      Looking forward to more of your insights.
      Take care of yourself.

  2. Mark, great article. No boredom here. Country life is filled with natures bounty, Morning walks with my Dog Buddy and the poodle pack, relaxing with coffee while watching the birds , reading, writing, cooking, exploring back roads, and spending time with our Grandchildren ( 6 Ft) Life is good out in the country….

    • Thank you, Larry. I’m grateful to you for your comments and for sharing some of your story.

      It’s very reassuring to know you’re happy. Keep up the good work. 😊

  3. I love this piece, Mark. I haven’t worked since March 18th, and I’ve yet to find a day when I’m bored. I keep myself busy with job seeking, projects, writing, getting outside, and enjoying the moments I always wished that I had time to enjoy. And still, I don’t get to everything! I say it is because I don’t always know how to sit still.

    Not every day is easy, but I do my best; although some days I fail miserably. I am also aware that it won’t stay like this forever – so much time. So, I’m trying to embrace this interruption and seek the possibilities in the pandemic.

    Thank you for saying what I imagine many of us are experiencing. I enjoyed reading your insights like I always do. Thanks for being the storyteller you are, Mark!

    • Thank you, Laura. If I had the right to make one request, it would be please don’t get down on yourself. From what I’ve seen, you use the time you’re not sitting still creatively. And when you are sitting still, you write beautifully. Especially in light of those things, I hope you can see “fail miserably” on the relative scale of your own expectations. From out here, with at least slightly more objectivity, it seems as if you’re succeeding wonderfully.

      Thank you for your comments. And thank you for being here. I feel better knowing you are.

    • Thank you for these sentiments, Mark – very kind, and I’ll accept them graciously. I am doing my best to embrace this time with positivity and the wonders of possibility. Thankfully, I have a tribe, which includes you who always manages to lift me. Thank you for that. I always look forward to our online exchanges!

  4. Thanks for sharing your pandemic musings with us. I’m a homebody myself, an introvert through and through. I don’t mind quiet times at home so I’ve been in training for this scenario for years.

    I haven’t been bored at all during the pandemic. We sold our home and began the purchasing process on a new home about one week before the stay at home order hit. We haven’t had time to get bored with all the packing, unpacking, projects, repairs and general nesting activities. I’m looking forward to having some serious quiet time to sit down and write again.

    Time is what we make of it. Nice to read your uplifting view on time.

    • Tammy, I suspect with or without your moving activities you’d never be bored anyway because you’re a writer.

      I do with you luck and success with your moving activities. And I look forward to everything you write.

      Thank you for sharing some of your writing with me in your comments.

  5. Mark – Bored? I can’t remember the last time I was bored. With Mother’s Day approaching, I remember my mom’s voice when I would occasionally whine about having nothing to do. “Go outside and play,” was her wisdom. Today, one of my favorite activities is walking. Sometimes with a podcast. Sometimes just to give myself time to think.

    My semi-retired life of podcasting, book writing / marketing, leadership coaching keeps me hopping and largely happy. #HumansFirst is blessing me with new, incredible relationships. ZOOM fatigue? Not me.

    And sometimes the Muse visits and leads me by the hand to the keyboard, and we write.

    As a card-carrying member of the Society of Introverts, I haven’t minded the quarantine except that I’ve largely stopped my daily walk to our grocery store to discover what’s for dinner. My inner European is on temporary hiatus. But my wife and I have plenty of food and libation, and we have each other. I believe in a universal spirt, and it has blessed us and our families with so much.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking piece. Loved reading everyone’s comments and your replies.

    • Jeff, I’m not at all sure I would have taken you for an introvert. I find you to be genuinely engaging; although, you may stop a little short of gregarious (said the Irishman). 😉

      And I’m with you on the absence of Zoom fatigue. I opened my own Zoom account just yesterday. Within moments, having no idea I’d done that and without having spoken with me for a few weeks, my friend, Don Judson, sent me a Zoom background with my company logo on it. You can’t make that stuff up, and you certainly can’t get tired of it.

      I do miss going to the gym. But, like you, the Muse and I spend a good deal of time at the keyboard. She seldom disappoints.

      Oh, yeah … and in the midst of this pandemic, I have the privilege of creating, exploring, and deepening my kindred relationship with you and hundreds of others. Would that have happened absent the coronavirus? Maybe. But nowhere near this quickly or deliberately.

      Yes. Anne and I are blessed, too. We get to celebrate that, together, every day.

      Thank you for your comments, your friendship, and for being here.

    • Thank you, Melissa.

      I’m that probably rare bird that goes to bed and sleeps peacefully if I know I have something to write the next day. There’s just something about the opportunity to create that makes me feel most alive, most worthwhile. The fact that it makes me feel worthwhile may qualify me to be your patient, should you go back into private practice someday. But it might be best to leave that one alone for now. 🤔

      Timing is, indeed, everything, along with the realization that opportunities are to be created, not found.

      I’m so happy I know you.

  6. Mark, I’m with you and by the way, I really love your writing. It sings to me. While I certainly hold a tremendous space of compassion for all of the suffering, this is such a precious time and reminder to stop striving and efforting. I’ve been waking up every day bursting with creative thoughts and ideas to the point where I intentionally sit for a 1 hour meditation to somehow still the contimuum of all the brain synapses as well as insuring I have an intentional stopping point in the evening. Reading this gave me the realization that I have a bit of aversion to some of the things that ask for me to be pulled away from these organic thoughts. Like Kevin, I don’t listen to the news and prefer one on one conversations as opposed to big group zoom calls. I prefer writing letters and one of the biggest gifts I’ve been enjoying during this time is all of the videos of artists recording music at home . Thank you for these beautiful thoughts.

    • Thank you so much, Shelley. Coming from one as creative as you are, I take that as a profound compliment.

      It’s amazing to me that the world has slammed on its brakes, yet we have more to do now, more to consider now, more to create now than we had when its spinning was uninterrupted. I think, in fact, our own spinning has been interrupted. I imagine that spinning as generating actual centrifugal force, with all of our distractions, constantly whirling ever faster, pulling us away from ourselves, from all that would otherwise be noticeably important to us.

      I don’t find myself with what has already come to be called Zoom Fatigue. But I, too, find myself preferring the closer connections, the more intimate communication of one-on-one calls.

      I’m so grateful for your comments and for our connection. I don’t know where all this leads. I do know it’s not an accident.

      Thank you.

  7. Hi Mark,

    From your thoughtful commenting on my articles, you must know how much this speaks my language. The word ”bored” is not in my vernacular. It has not been for years. Like you and your wife, I adore the idea of using my creativity. During this challenging period, I feel blessed to be able to make a living as well as be thankful that ideas continue to foment in my mind. Thank you for this article which, hopefully, will encourage others to use their imagination.💖

    • Thank you, Darlene. If people don’t seem to be using their time to be creative, to be imaginative, to do things they heretofore didn’t have time to do, it’s up to us to remind them. I’m not bashful, and I have the sense you’re not either. 😉 That’s a very good thing.

      I’m always so happy to read your comments. Thank you.

  8. You know it’s funny, Mark, I don’t experience boredom. I think, because I have had my own business for 20 years I’ve always found a way to work on something. To explore. To learn. To fiddle. And truthfully, I could sit noodling and contemplating my navel for hours on end and be perfectly happy. I heard someone say eons ago that “bored people are boring.” I don’t know that I agree with that, but it’s certainly something I’ve shot back to my teenager a time or two. I think cultivating an interest in finding ways to be interested is a pretty cool thing to do.

    • Well, Kimberly, given your generous willingness to be part of my book project, we’ll have only ourselves to blame if we’re bored.

      I’ve had my business for 16 years, born of the realization that I was bored if I wasn’t creating something … anything. So, I took the plunge and never looked back. One aspect of my good fortune is that Anne is very creative: We have our alone time. We have our together time. And we strike a constructive, enjoyable balance with the two.

      Thank you for your comments. I’m so grateful we’re connected.

  9. If someone paid me for every time I have said, “I need to make the most of this unique forced down time” I would not have to worry that I’ve put enough money away for retirement. I haven’t heard anyone tell me they are bored, but if they did, I would wonder why. I have a whiteboard full of notes in the categories of Must Do, Should Do, Want to Do, Fun to Do, there is no question of What to Do. I am zealously turning off the TV, turning on my computer, closing the fridge, opening a book, turning off the furnace, opening windows, escaping the shelter in place, to hit the trail outdoors. I have written more letters, attended more webinars, joined more Zoom meetings, and walked more miles than all of last year. Boring is a relative term. We will get out of this era what we have poured into it, guess.

    • Yes, Jane, we will. And I hope this doesn’t sound selfish or self-serving, but we’ll get out of it what we’ve poured into ourselves. If we’re no good to ourselves unhappy or unfulfilled, we certainly can’t be any good to or for others. (“Put your own mask on first.”) If we all take the time to find ourselves now, while we have the time, we’ll be that much more successful in finding, reaching, and helping others.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here.

  10. That singular thought that no one else is me is both comforting and scary. Sometimes I wish there were more than one of me for delegation of certain responsibilities (Yeah, you do that now, thanks…) or taking some heat (“That was the other me…”) or even just for the support group aspects (helping me figure out me). Ultimately, whatever becomes of me is up to me (you know: “If it is to be it is up to me.”) That freedom thing really can toss some challenges our way. I love the freedom to savor the words of some really good wordsmiths, like you. I like how you think and then give us those gifts like this one. I have taken a few swings at trying to make sense of what is happening, but you’ve rolled out a pretty sweet option here. I thank you for it.

    • Tom when I got my first cat, I clearly remember thinking the creators of the classic cartoons I revered — Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, et al. — hadn’t actually created anything. They’d simply recorded in animated fashion the lunatic antics of house pets.

      I think the same way about what you and I do: We record what we’re experiencing and share the record here and elsewhere. It’s what we’re called to do. It’s what we have the freedom to do, especially now. We’re not supposed to think about what we do. We’re not supposed to judge it or ourselves. We’re just supposed to do it.

      Few do it as well as you do, my friend. And all I’m going to do is encourage you and look forward whatever you write next.

      Thank you for being here.

  11. Quarantine with two young children is a different experience. Yes, I do have more time with them. But idle time is minimal. So perhaps thinking more about your words, its time I’ll never have with them again, but I do wish I had more time to myself.

    However, in the same thought process they likely are a reason for me to keep going. There is no time to sit in bed and ponder if I should get out of bed. There are no meals missed. And not too much time to worry.

    I have enjoyed the weekend time with them in the garden – no birthday parties or activities to get to. We just enjoy each other and our time.

    • JoAnna, you’ve already proven you’re a survivor, one who’s generous enough to work for the survival of others. And you’ve also proven you’re a selfless mom, committed to ensuring your children aren’t exposed to and don’t grow up in the same cycles you did.

      When all of us look back at what we did with our time during the coronavirus lockdown, my guess is you’ll have more joy and fewer regrets than many.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

  12. Thank you, Mark, for the reminder that time is what we have-and our focus, commitment and life force energy to create, contribute, connect with others. We leave in the middle of our movies so we might as well make use of this precious time we have. I admit that I have not for a minute experienced boredom during this pandemic and am utterly grateful to have purposeful actions to take each day for the book that launched at the same time the pandemic turned human lives topsy turvy, to make phone calls to people I love, to write, to make videos, to run outside or power walk amidst the trees on the mountainside. I love the line “Create your life with joy and hope.” Beautiful. Thank you, my friend!

    • Laura, it’s I who thank you for being a source of joy and hope for so many. I love the fact that our voices share space here, that we support and inspire each other. I can’t say I’m surprised you’re not bored. You’re creating your life with (from) joy and hope every day.

      Thank you for your comments. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Just thank you.

  13. Wonderful piece Mark! It’s all a matter of perspective, right? What perspective do we each have? I’m thankful to not be sick (although I was in mid-March, not sure what it was), to have roof over my head and food on the table, to be able to talk, video chat, and exchange messages and stories with family and friends more frequently and more deeply. I’m thankful I’ve finally turned off the news and with the 2-3 hours of less daily distraction and negativity I’ve been making the most of this time in a way that nurtures me.

    • Ah, self-nurturing. As Robin Williams would have said, what a concept.

      I’m very grateful for your comments, Kevin. It’s so incredibly human that this virus, which causes us to separate as never before, is enabling us to create opportunities to be closer to more people than we otherwise might have been. Forgive the grandiose phrase, but I find it existentially heartening that we’re all choosing — yes, choosing — to create more connections and to make the most of every one.

      How beautifully human that a virus that threatens life compels us to live more fully.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here.

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