Fun vs Meaningful

You’ve probably heard the saying “time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted.”

Like most sayings, there’s some truth to it. But if you really believe this you’re probably doing yourself a disservice by having a ready-made excuse to wasting time.

And if you’re like me and try to (somewhat) optimize how you spend time, is there a way to determine how to best spend it, and on what activities to spend it on?

The way I’ve begun to think about it is thinking of activities in terms of fun vs meaningful.

Fun

Fun can mean a lot of things, but to me the gist is that you feel good doing whatever you’re doing in the moment and not necessarily after the fact. It’s a short-term, fleeting feeling without many, if at all, future benefits.

An example is drinking alcohol. Drinking is fun; you feel good while you’re drunk and generally the more you drink the more fun you have. But that fun is fleeting, because the day after you’re groggy, hungover, and regretful (How many times have you said “I’m never drinking so much again”?). And how beneficial is drinking? Not very to your body or health. Sure, you might make a friend or two while doing so, but will those be deep relationships you care about?

Meaningful 

Meaningful, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have that same instantaneous short-term enjoyment that fun can have. Meaningful activities can be fun, but they can also be hard, painstaking work in the moment. The payoff for meaningful activities can also be delayed, but also much more enduring.

An example of a meaningful activity is working out. It’s tough in the moment, and few people enjoy the first few times they start a new workout program. But the after effects of a workout – dopamine, testosterone, improved circulation, confidence – are universal: no one has ever regretted exercising more.

Thinking of activities this way helps you avoid the temptation for instant gratification. Think of “fun” activities like playing video games, partying, going out drinking, vacationing, etc. as the dessert, not the main course. The main course is filled with activities like learning new skills, taking interesting classes, playing on a sports league, contributing to a start-up, etc.

Of course, people are going to read this and still think it’s arrogant to label activities as meaningful or not, or a waste of time or not. They’re missing the point. Of course you’re free to spend your time doing whatever you want. But if you’re trying to convince yourself that watching TV or playing video games in all your free time is not a waste of time you’re likely deluding yourself.

I had to learn this the hard way. As a kid, I used to play a ton of video games – hours and hours every day, sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night to put in more hours. I had a ton of fun playing them in the moment, but when I stopped I’d inevitably have this empty hollow-ness inside me. Did I really just spend 3, 4, 5 hours playing this game? What did I really achieve as a result? What could I have done instead with all that time? 

I didn’t understand the concept of fun vs meaningful back then, but I’m sure that had I known I likely would have spent my time wiser.

6 Wastes of Time In Your 20s

As humans, we’re all born to different circumstances, but the one commonality we share is time. What we do and where we end up in life is most impacted by how we spend this incredibly valuable asset.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to fully appreciate this asset in your early 20s and prior, precisely because it’s so abundant at this age. And yet how we spend our time during these formative years is so important; an early investment of time in something can pay dividends for years and decades down the road.

After thinking about the various ways in which I’ve wasted and waste time, I’ve come up with the list below.

The problem with the following items is that they feel good in the moment, but don’t actually generate much happiness/utility/benefit after the fact. They’re forms of instant gratification, much like candy. You could eat five bags of candy in one sitting and feel great while doing so, but almost immediately after regret your decision to do so. I’ve found I react the same way to the following activities.

And to those who say time enjoyed is not time wasted, I agree…but only to an extent. Take an extreme example: I could do drugs all day and have the time of my life – yet we can all agree that that “time enjoyed” was certainly wasted, unproductive, and even harmful.

So, on to what I think the biggest time wasters are:

Alcohol
Consider a typical night out in college:

Pre-game for an hour, head out to the bar to drink for a couple hours, go to an after-party/club for another couple hours, find a pizza joint after and spend another hour eating/chatting, finally head home at 3-4 am, then wake up hungover the next day and stay in bed half the day nursing a headache.

When you repeat the above multiple times a week for several years, the hours quickly add up.

Now, yes, you may argue that all that going out serves a purpose: to meet new people and develop relationships with. But let’s face it: most people in their early 20s go out for the sake of getting drunk with a close-knit circle.

I realized pretty early on in college that I didn’t enjoy getting sloshed to the extent my peers did. So I simply stopped accepting invites to go out when I knew the event centered around consuming as much alcohol as one could. Once I came to terms with not letting these feelings of pressure / societal expectations dictate my evenings, I was free to spend my nights on other hobbies or events – reading, writing, playing poker, trying board games with friends, learning new skills, playing intramural league, or just sleeping early.

Now, none of this isn’t to say I think alcohol is bad or that I never drink – I just think it’s important to have a good relationship with it.

It’s still too early to say how this will impact my future, but I can say for certain that had I gone out more this past year, I would not have had the time to read 80+ books, learn copywriting & direct marketing, generate income from poker, and spend as much quality time with friends.

I’m also comforted by the fact that others have echoed this idea. For instance: Ryan Holiday recently credited not drinking as instrumental for his success at an early age.

Bad Relationships
Just glance at all the relationship questions on Quora and you’ll see bad relationships are one of the biggest headaches and timesucks for people in their 20s.

People stick around too long in bad relationships and try to make it work with the wrong people. This doesn’t just mean incompatible boyfriends/girlfriends – it includes negative people, people who drain you of your energy, compulsive complainers/whiners, abusive family members, etc.

Realize that you are allowed to cut people out from your life. You can stop accepting invites to go out. You don’t have to try and salvage every relationship and every friendship. As you get older, you’ll naturally be more exclusive with who you associate with. I think the sooner one realizes this, the better.

Video Games
I spent my entire teenage life playing games. I easily racked up hundreds, if not a thousand, hours of playing video games. In first year college, I would routinely stay up playing Heroes of Newerth with friends over Skype. I actually essentially lost money while I was playing because at the time, my hourly rate playing online poker was $100-200 – a huge opportunity cost. The addiction was real.

I not only played for hours every night, I also studied my past games, watched streams, and read guides all in the name of improving myself. That took up another few hours every day.

Were there benefits from all this? I really can’t say at the moment. I want to believe that this compulsive drive to better myself at anything I do translates into other endeavors. But what if I had simply put my time and energy into something else to begin with?

Yes, I enjoyed playing video games in the heat of the moment. But once in a while, there would be a hollow feeling inside me. Did 3 hours really just go by? And think of all the things I’m procrastinating on… Eventually, I realized gaming didn’t align with my future goals at all. I slowly eased off of it and eventually quit for the most part.

When it comes to determining whether gaming is a waste of time or not, it helps to decide which side of the “# hours played” curve you wish to be on. On one side, you have 1000+ hours – this is if you have ambitions to go pro, enter the competitive scene, become a prominent YouTuber, start a Twitch stream, or some other way to monetize your gaming. On the other side is <100 hours – think of the casual gamer who plays for an hour every couple of days after work to unwind.

Falling on polar ends of this spectrum seems to be ideal for optimizing your time. Either you make gaming your life’s work or you use it as a relaxation tool. The problem area is the middle area in between these two poles – where you spend so much time gaming that it interferes with your regular life but you don’t spend enough time to reach the top or monetize your gaming hobby.

When it came to HoN, I fell in that middle area. I was good but not top-tier and frankly, never really thought about going pro. I spent a lot of time playing and studying, but not enough that I could monetize that time. However, it was enough time that the game affected my sleep schedule, study habits, and social life to some degree.

I could write a lot more on this topic (and probably will in the future), but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Living Someone Else’s Life

For the better part of our entire lives up to our 20s, we largely follow the instructions of others – our parents, our teachers, our peers, the media…rarely do we make a major decision without influence from others.

Left unquestioned, the result is we spend a large part of our lives living in a way that doesn’t resonate with who we really are. We may choose to do things based on what others think is best for us and discard the very things that could have led us to genuine happiness.

I have a friend who was pushed all his life to become a doctor. He studied all the sciences in high school, majored in biochem in undergrad, then entered medical school. A couple years in now, he’s come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t truly enjoy what he’s learning or the path he’s taken. Yet he feels like he’s spent too much time, effort, and money already not to continue on.

Realize that what others say you should be is based upon their own experiences and how they feel you’d be of more value to them. Neither should be the basis for determining how you should live your life.

The early 20s are a great time to question the ‘truths’ you’ve been taught growing up and figuring out who you are, what you really enjoy, and how you want to live your life. Taking the time to do so can be really rewarding and prevent time wasted living someone else’s life.

Accepting Complacency
It’s supremely easy after you graduate college and get a full-time job to fall into a state of complacency. You’re making decent money, your schedule is largely fixed, you have a daily routine, and you mostly associate with the same people. Life is pretty good for the most part, and it’s easy to just coast along.

As humans, we seek this kind of comfort and stability. We wouldn’t have survived as a species till now otherwise. But comfort breeds complacency, and complacency can be dangerous. It hinders personal growth, which to me is an important aspect of life. Even moreso in your 20s, when time and energy is abundant and responsibilities are still relatively few. At no other time in your life will you have the same kind of opportunity – accepting complacency at this age can only lead to mediocrity.

What’s especially dangerous about complacency is that it’s a non-obvious timesink. You may feel “stuck” but choose to continue living within the status quo simply because it’s safe: an OK job without advancement potential because it pays the bills; a mediocre long-term relationship that you’re staying in for convenience and obligation (“I’ve already invested 5 years into this, easier to ride it out”); pursuing a degree in something half-heartedly on behalf of your parents.

Next thing you know, several years have gone by and you’re stuck in the same job or relationship or major in college discontent, wondering where the time went.

Thoughts on Perfectionism

The master at anything was once a beginner. Everyone starts somewhere.

The stars will never perfectly align and circumstances will never be optimal. Start before you’re ready.

David Foster Wallace once said, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” The only way to overcome this inertia is to just dosomething.

Consider the anecdote of the ceramics teacher and the pottery class.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged:the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Start small and start badly. Then keep working and refining the edges. This is the only way to improve and achieve any semblance of perfection.

Your Passion vs Your Parents

We live in a more confusing time than ever today.

Entire industries have sprung up that never existed just one or two decades ago. The old way of doing things is often broken.

Because of this, much of the advice that was passed down through the generations has become obsolete. Conventional wisdom is sometimes no longer relevant.

Every day, we’re barraged with advice from other people about how to live our lives. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, society at large all tell you how to live your life. Everyone imposes their will on you, whether they mean to or not.

As a result, young people are pushed into careers they never wanted. They choose their college majors based not on their interests but on what their parents think is best. (By the way, I think the whole idea of choosing a major at 18 is ridiculous to begin with)

They (or I should say, we, as I still identify as a young adult) seem to never cultivate a sense of identity, instead relying on the guidance of someone else to tell them what to do next. The concept of choosing their own life path is foreign to them.

It’s unfortunate, because those who listen too much build a habit of trusting others to make decisions for them. As time goes on, this habit only grows stronger, leading to a life of conformity and blind trust in authority figures.

Read moreYour Passion vs Your Parents