Do Better Better #5: How to Spend Your Time (Right Now)

Quinn Emmett
August 31, 2020
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This series is called “Do Better Better” (editor’s note: it was previously called On Purpose, but a simple Google search revealed 500 other companies and podcasts with that title, so, here we are), because I want to help you question, assess, plan, and act with deeply validated purpose. 

This strategy can be a tremendous asset in uncertain seasons. If continuously honed, it can guide us through highs and lows.

When we suffer loss, for example, or feel threatened, we tend to gain a heightened perspective on life, if only for a brief period of time. We hunker down, and focus on what’s most important. For many, that means family. This pivot doesn’t imply that other things are suddenly and forever unimportant. Work, friends, the news of the day — these still matter, but they take a back seat for a while. And maybe we reorganize our priorities a bit going forward, most significantly around how we spend our finite time.

Time which suddenly feels like a gift.

On the other hand, with a laundry list of existential crises piling up outside our window, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, like we are constantly fighting a never-ending battle, and losing. Time itself loses meaning. We are pulled in so many directions at once, every day. Instead of the acute pain and lucidity that come from a death in the family, for instance, we are relentlessly overpowered, and told that it’s only going to get worse. Time becomes inescapable, our efforts to gain control are not enough.

It can all feel a bit much. This feeling is often the catalyst for the popular question, “When will things go back to normal?”

It’s a very 2020 thing to ask. And it’s completely understandable.

I am reminded, however, of a conversation last year between two of my idols in the climate movement, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright. Dr. Johnson asked Ms. Gunn-Wright, who had recently spent quite a bit of time architecting the Green New Deal: “When and how did trying to prevent the apocalypse become your day job?” To which Ms. Gunn-Wright replied “I’m black. Which apocalypse?”

***

“Normal” means so many different things to so many different people, especially in a nation as unequal as ours. Thus, the things we each take for granted differ accordingly. Conversely, so do the things we cherish above all else.

“Normal” for Black Americans is an unarmed Black brother and son and father being shot seven times in the back by the police, and then, once paralyzed for life, handcuffed to his hospital bed for good measure. This while — at the very same moment, in the very same town — a white vigilante assassin wanders the streets with a personal assault weapon in one hand, and a fresh water bottle in the other, a gift from the very same police.

Normal for so many Black Americans is standing (for decades) on the frontlines of the climate crisis, as toxic fumes from cars and oil wells poison their air, and urban heat makes very specific, redlined parts of cities too hot to live in, too hot to learn in, but just hot enough to die in.

Countless Black Americans experience these as day-to-day direct threats. A question they’re asking every day is “How can I live?”, while white pundits are on cable news every day asking questions like “How can Joe Biden get the same Black male turnout that Obama did?”

But this election isn’t about Joe Biden. This election is about you. Joe Biden is simply a vessel for what you want the world to be, in this time.

There’s a fair amount of banter on the fringes (whatever that means anymore) that America’s headed for another civil war. Polling and voting have revealed that most Americans have already decided which side they’re on.

The question to ask today is: why? Why are you on one side, or the other?

Get specific. No, more specific: what is the one hill you’re willing to die on, and why does it mean so much to you?

Sure, you’re a good person. There’s so much you care about. And things are on fire everywhere, so I understand if it can be hard to narrow down the list of issues you feel must be improved upon, or that we simply cannot give up on. We have no time. We have so many things to fix, now, yesterday. I don’t disagree, believe me.

But I suggest picking just one, for this exercise. Pick one issue that feels closest to life and death for you. For your family. Remember — for some Americans, this isn’t an exercise.

Now — imagine you have exactly sixty-four days remaining to defend this thing you’ve chosen. That’s it. No more, no less.

Not sixty-four days until you can defend it — imagine these sixty-four days are the very last sixty-four chances you’ll ever have to defend this very just thing, or to defend against some terrible evil.

And you — your voice, your vote, and your dollar — are all that stands in the way.

How will you muster? How will you be heard? Who will you rally to your side? Which of your many skills will you put to the test, in these, the climactic moments, across these sixty-four days? These sixty-four days could be the sixty-four most impactful days of your life, if you take advantage of every single one.

Loss teaches you that you can’t stop time, or change the past, but you can always start now, and fight for the future. Time is our most important investment. Time has stakes. You have sixty-four days left. Imagine showing up for a scheduled battle and discovering that the other side had been strategizing, bringing together allies, and amassing their forces for the sixty-three days prior, and that the day’s result was more or less already decided?

Democrats, liberals, lefties — whatever you want to call them — have spent decades defending their intention to do what is right, for the people, by insisting that incremental progress is still progress. That progress takes time. We cannot stand on that pedestal any longer. We cannot depend on hope. We must do what is necessary, and what is necessary, now, is to do everything we can possibly do. And so I ask you: what do you have to offer, right now? What will you fight for?

Clean air. Clean water. Affordable water. Black lives. Coral reefs. Clean jobs. Industry leadership. Schoos. Immigration. Sea level rise. Guns. Reproductive rights. Statehood. Civil rights. Wages. Childcare. Healthcare. Affordable nutritious food.

I’m asking you to pick the issue that is most important to you, personally, but if your issue is anything from the list above, or related, you are probably choosing to fight for the public good.

Grab hold of time. Do this thing. Fight this fight for sixty-four days, and one day, with luck and steadfastness, you will measure your life, and find that these days mattered immensely...because you acted as though they should.

— Quinn

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