Time, the Most Precious Resource

It’s been nearly 4 months since the last substantial post on this site, with only a noodlesmenumenunoodles palindrome to break the silence. Let’s see what’s been going on since then…

At the end of that last post, I was talking about getting depressed over not having our own place to live. It had been 27 weeks since we’d returned from Hong Kong, we were living with our parents, and things were looking like they wouldn’t be changing any time soon. The only way out that I saw was to get a job and earn money. I knew I could get an IT support job but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue in that field. I mentioned lessons learned between ending my last long-term job, going on Adventure 2012, living and working in Hong Kong, and finally moving back: lessons about not always falling back on what you’ve always done, about not just doing what you think you should do, or even thinking how you’ve always thought.

Sadly, in my impatient eagerness, I went and did exactly what I should (or should it be shouldn’t in the new paradigm? 😉 ) have done: I got an IT support job.

The job lasted for two months. During that time, I realized that I hadn’t listened to myself (another supposed-previously-learned lesson) before taking the job. When I wrote that “27 Weeks” post, I already knew that I didn’t want to go back to IT support, but I did it anyway thinking that it would be the easiest way to a livable income. But it wasn’t easy at all. I’ve probably mentioned before about being dead-tired at the end of the work day; with this job, it was the worst that it’s ever been. At the end of the day, I couldn’t even do basic stuff like keeping track of finances or logging what I did that day. And this job was actually relatively short when it came to the hours, literally a 9 to 5. Regardless of how easy the job seemed on the surface, doing something I didn’t want to do took a mental toll which in turn led to a physical toll. It was unsustainable, so I quit.

San Francisco Chinatown - Stockton Street
Same SF Chinatown, New Perspective

Now, it’s been just over a month since my last day of work. During this time, I have resumed playing and watching basketball. I did my taxes and cleared the mountain of documents on my desk. On a couple of days, I traipsed all around San Francisco, re-discovering some old places I used to go to while also discovering some new ones. It’s been really great having no constraints on my time, a reinforcement of the lesson that I thought I’d already learned before: that time is the most precious resource.

There are a lot of things related to work besides actual business hours that take up time. There’s the time spent getting to and from work. There’s the time spent getting ready for work, like grooming yourself, getting dressed, and eating breakfast. There’s the time used to recuperate from work, the “winding down” period where one switches from work-mode to home-mode. Sometimes, there is no switching back no matter how little you do (or how much you drink ?) after work. If that’s the case, then it might seem like an entire day is devoted to work. Maybe that’s why people look forward to the weekend so much.

If time is the most precious resource, then you have to ask yourself if what you’re allocating that resource to is worthwhile. So, while it was nice seeing direct deposits in my account every couple of weeks, I could not see this process as my existence for the next few years, let alone the next few months. We had actually gone apartment hunting and found a decent place, but since I had only just started the job, we didn’t take it. I’m super relieved now that we didn’t. My life would have been working and drinking on weekdays, and catching up on things on weekends such as running errands, doing chores, and maybe preparing food. My bank account would have gotten fatter, but my soul would have been crushed like a granite block on a quarry cart in Emperor:ROMK.

For a long time, I took too much pride in being able to live on our own with no help from family (I’m probably still a little prideful despite no longer living on our own). Some of my HK friends who felt entitled to live at home with mom and dad (as is conventional over there) would ask me how I could pass up free rent, and I would tell them that I didn’t like to depend on family. And yet, most of our friends and family, whether in Hong Kong or the US, use their families as a housing resource, whether that be staying at home with parents or receiving a monetary gift from them to use as a down payment. I would always look down on them for doing so, telling JC that we were better because we depended on ourselves.

Well, take a look at us now. In two months, we would have stayed with our parents for an entire year. Looking at the things people do to earn money for their house, their car, things for their kids, it would seem that perhaps their number one priority is money, or perhaps material things. OK, so what if your number one priority is time? What kind of things would you be willing to do to maintain control of your time? For me, perhaps it is quitting a decently-paying job, swallowing my pride, and staying with parents; doing something that I would look down on myself for; being a hypocrite.

But perhaps I’ve been thinking about it wrong all this time. Family is supposed to be family, not something to keep at arm’s length, which is what I have been doing. Maybe I was jealous that other people could depend on their families and I couldn’t, sour grapes and all. I’ve had and continue to have some resentment towards my family for various issues, and pride dictates that one shall not benefit from those one resents. Or maybe I didn’t like how cocky some people could be with their big houses and fancy cars, financed by mom and pop. Perhaps a narcissistic upbringing where I was constantly being compared with and deemed superior to the other kids in the family created a desire to be better than everyone else by being a contrarian and doing it on my own.

The thing is, nobody does it completely on their own. I remember reading about interdependence (as opposed to just independence) in Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and pushing forward with my own way of thinking despite thinking in the back of my mind that I might be wrong. I like being independent. I like doing things on my own, achieving things through my own effort and ingenuity, not depending on others. But, recognizing that time is the number one priority, maybe it’s time to set independence aside and embrace interdependence.

So now, I’ve become the someone that I looked down upon before. We take turns staying at our parents’ places and we pay no rent because we don’t want to pay the necessary price to have a place of our own. Is it a convenient change of mind, perfectly shaped to match the current circumstance? Does it sound like rationalization? Maybe. Probably. We stay at home, and in return we help out around the house and our parents are happy that we’re around. I’ll admit, it’s difficult proceeding without thinking that I’ve sold out and betrayed my values. But it is true that interdependence is a higher level of development than independence. All the self-help advice that says to “get out of your comfort zone”? This is it.

These days, I often ask JC how it was possible back in the day that I could work an intense job and still have time to work on my Acura TSX, maintain my fish tank, and play Gran Turismo 5. I think the answer is that despite the challenge of the job, it was something that I really wanted to do and excel at, which made the job easier, which in turn resulted in my still having energy to do all that other stuff at the end of the day. As we try to find that next thing that we really want to do and excel at, we’ll continue to maximize what we have now and do what makes us happy. If that means re-evaluating my values, then I gladly proceed, because once all is said and done, time is our most precious resource, more important than any amount of dollars in our bank accounts, more important than any amount of pride. We can’t afford to spend it living our lives in misery.

Wing Wah Phở Gà

Wing Wah Shredded Chicken Ho Fun Soup
Hearty chicken soup, shredded chicken, rice noodles – delish!

Been really liking the chicken noodles at Wing Wah Phở Gà lately – you can get a choice of bone-in or boneless chicken; the former is tastier but takes more effort, and the latter is appropriate for when you’re starving and just want to concentrate on eating – both are wonderful in their own right.

This bowl was from last weekend. It was a record-setting hot day, and the noodles went great with an iced coffee. Sweat it out!