Six Reasons to Reassess the Sentence, “I Don’t Have Time for You.”

A relationship is like a garden. It’s always easier just to let it take care of itself, but then how does it look? Trust me, time spent cultivating a garden is never lost.
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I’ve made many mistakes in my life. One of the greatest: I didn’t spend enough time on the people who were important to me. I always found something that was more important.

Somebody once told me: “When you don’t spend time with me, you teach me to live without you.”

Which was only one step away from the sentence that it would inevitably lead to: “When you don’t spend time with me, you teach me to live with someone else.”

She left because she was not heard, and I got angry because in my own mind I was spending all my time away from her doing important “stuff.” “I wasn’t busy on purpose,” I told her. I also told myself that this had been a “difficult period,” at work that demanded my full attention, but she obviously couldn’t fail to notice that this difficult period had lasted for the entire length of our relationship.

“I’ve got lots of work.” “I don’t have time for you.” I used these phrases more than once during that time, and all of the people who were most important to me heard them. These words have weighed on me for a long time. 

Before an important person exits your life too, I would like to offer you six suggestions to think about—they’ll help you realise that there is a limit to everything and that when you decide who or what to spend your time on, you will also be making it clear to others where your priorities lie, a decision that could make you happier in the long run.

1. We owe it to those who always stand by us

It’s not important where you are currently in your career. Wherever you are now, you always have the people that spent their time with you when you needed it to thank for your position. The fact that you are able to maintain relationships with the people who mean the most to you now best expresses who you really are, because it takes effort to do that.

I’m even sure that—with apologies to Gates, Zuckerberg, and any Czech entrepreneur—in reality there are no “self-made men”—successful people who built up what they have all on their own. If we think of every teacher who taught them, every writer whose work they read, and on, and on, then it’s not hard to see that behind every successful person there are maybe hundreds of other people that gave them at least a word of encouragement or a snippet of advice at every stage of their life. Each of these people helped form the character, thinking and, obviously, success of this individual. As the English poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island.”

2. We need a change

Taking a couple of minutes to step back from the work that you have been buried under for so long is no great loss. It’s more a gain for you when it gives you the chance to clear your head and when it frees up some space for what your partner or child wants to tell you. They say that a change is as good as a rest, and you will often find that if you can tear yourself away from work to enjoy time with friends or a quiet walk, you will find that you come back to it with a little more enthusiasm and energy.

3. It’s good for karma

It may seem calculating, but spending time with someone when they need it could mean that they do exactly the same for you in future. You have to give to receive, so talk, listen, and share. Give for the sake of giving, but give out what you might want to get back.

4. Variety is the spice of life

I already mentioned this, but leaving behind the tired, unchanging routine of “work-think” for a while is refreshing, healthy, and beneficial. You will be able to give more to work if you have an enjoyable life outside of it, and if it encroaches on your home life, then trust me, both will suffer as a result.

We can all be happier if we are full participants in the lives and concerns of those around us. Grappling with their problems, views, opinions, loves, and hates are all fuel to the fire of living a full life. Involvement can expose us to new perspectives, ideas, horizons, and values that could even change the way we view our work life. And if nothing comes of this, then no matter. At least it offers a step back and a different focus for a while.

5. It’s a privilege to help someone

Three hundred Improovio readers write to me about their urgent problems every single day. That’s a hundred thousand problems annually, not counting those of my own friends and family. And my feeling about this? Humility and gratefulness.

Being asked for help in some way, be it a simple hug, or a request to listen, to be asked to give advice—whatever—is an honour. It’s a sign that we have somebody’s trust, that we are possibly the only one who is there for that person, and it makes us feel needed in a way that nothing else can. If you can give to others in this way without it taking too much out of you, then give. Help if you can, devote the time that your child is asking for. Are they really asking you for so much?

6. A person grows with relationships

You don’t become wise in isolation. Thinking things through can only give you so much, but there is more to be learned when you learn from others, too.

Sure, we’re all so terribly busy all the time, but there are still things to learn, and from the people who still make time for us, in particular. They can show us how to build relationships and help change our everyday lives for the better. They can teach us to spend time not only on what is urgent but also on what is really important in life.

© Petr Casanova