Book of the Week 14: On the Shortness of Life

This week I decided to tackle on a completely different type of book from the book, going all the way back to the time of Roman philosophers. A friend had suggested trying out this short and quick philosophy book, convinced that I would love both the idea of ideas as well as the concept of making the most of our time and our lives.

This book is actually quite short – short enough to actually complete through an audiobook while I was running a half marathon this past weekend! Only about a hundred pages, or an hour of audio. Although life may (or may not!) be short, this read will clearly be worth your time investment.


Rating: 5/5

Verdict: Not much time investment needed to learn about how to invest in your time. Many concepts that people in the modern day rarely bring up.

The underlying concept in this book: Carpe diem. Seize the day. Live your life, today.

While that concept is nothing new, Seneca’s methods of the most of their lives may be. I’d like to bring up three of his main points in this review:

Life is Long Enough

It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is – the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but as wasteful of it.

I really don’t need to add any comment to this, as Seneca has so beautifully explained it himself. But from my take on this: Create an end goal, maybe a couple. Invest all your time into it. Keep at it, step by step, and eventually you’ll accomplish something greater than you could ever imagine.

Don’t wait to retire to start living your life. Start. Living. Today!

Leisure Time vs Busy Idleness

 Even the leisure of some men is engrossed; in their villa or on their couch, in the midst of solitude, although they have withdrawn from all others, they are themselves the source of their own worry; we should say that these are living, not in leisure, but in idle preoccupation.

Ever since I started working full-time, I realized just how little time I had outside of work, so I tried making every moment of my free time count. Topping the previous section of creating an end goal, I make sure that my leisure time actually goes toward a goal, instead of time wasted in busy idleness, in idle preoccupation.

Most people wind down as soon as they get back home, turning on their TV, Netflix, Facebook, etc., and just spending the rest of the day relaxing. After all, you already put in an entire eight hours of work in a day – how could you have the energy to do even more? What would make leisure time an end goal?

My leisure time tends to switch between the following:

  • Playing Super Smash Bros. I would seriously love to become a top level player, top reasons being to reach my hidden potential and to network with more people, and many people, top players and myself included, believe I can get there soon. The main point is, hobbies can be end goals too. I just make sure that every moment I spend playing the game is quality practice, analyzing my gameplay after every match to see how I can improve, one step at a time. Disclaimer: I personally can’t get into any other video games because I feel like trying to make another game an end goal is too much to juggle, and the end goal of multiple video games just starts to become an excuse to play more.
  • Reading a book. As long as the book is a different topic from the previous task I was working on, the context switching makes picking up a book easy. (For example I can’t pick up a programming book after an entire day of work in the software engineering field; those books have to wait until the weekend for me.) Simply relaxing in my bed with a book makes it great leisure. And on top of everything, I’m learning something new every evening, or outside in the courtyard at work during lunch.
  • Writing. My purpose in writing blog posts is 1) to document my learning process as I improve day-by-day as an individual, and 2) to share my stories with the world, hoping they either enjoy the content or learn something new themselves! I’m also steadily working on a book that I would like to release by the end of the year, for the exact same reasons. Just like with reading, as long as the task I work on before writing is different, the context switching makes writing a leisure activity for me.
  • Exploring. I make sure that wherever I go, I absorb as much of the environment as I possibly can. How is this place different from the places I’ve been? How do people act differently here from other places? Whether it’s just a few miles away from home or across the country, whether I’m alone or with friends, I’m always keeping an open mind, both feeding my craving of wanderlust and improving day-by-day as an individual.
  • Working out. The benefits are self-explanatory here!

It seems that my end goals tend to fall under the following when it comes to leisure: self-improvement, and socializing. Likewise, you can definitely do the same! Pick up a skill you would like to develop, whether it’s a physical skill from drawing to sports, or a social skill from communicating to planning events, there are so many choices! Remaining in idle preoccupation seems dreadful, even unimaginable, when there’s so many possibilities to bring out our greatest potential.

When to Spend Money Instead of Time

In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

Personally I tend to be rather frugal in both time and money, but that may be just because I’m still a new grad without much money yet! Time is money, with the following exception: We can always make back money, but we can never make back time

We should consider spending money on the following things which I would think we try to be stingy on:

  • Mentorship. You can spend money to learn something in a week from a mentor instead of a year independently; that leaves 51 more weeks for other end goals. For example, people argue all the time that you can get a college education without college, but without the resources such as professors, lab materials, etc., is it worth the extra time investment of trying to do everything yourself?
  • Delegation. If you happen to have the money, or if you’re in a managerial position in a company, hire someone to do the more menial tasks: answering emails, cleaning the house, cooking, etc. I would only consider this however if you aren’t currently wasting your time in busy idleness such as watching TV.
  • Outsourcing. Alternatively, instead of menial tasks, find someone who can do a task much better and quicker than you. If becoming great at the skill is not an end goal (and according to Good to Great, if it’s not something you can be the best at, it’s not worth going for), then it is likely worth spending the money on.

This book is such a quick read, everyone should definitely give Seneca a chance. The time you gain out of reading this book will reward you tenfold. Do it, now, now, now!