This week has been a particularly busy time for me, as I needed to write several pieces and also deliver a presentation in London. There are times when I have so much work sitting on my computer I actually forget that most things I do are voluntary, and that I also have a family life too, which is getting busier as my grandchildren grow up. However whether I am being paid or not, I have always worked in the most professional manner, so I still feel the pressure of deadlines.
Of course that situation is tougher when you are doing paid work, and I know that I am a workaholic, whether I am paid or not, and it is something that really motivates me. I used to live for my work, and had little spare time. I told myself that it was important to work hard and earn money, and quickly I was on the ever spinning wheel. The harder I worked the more I earned, the more I earned, the more I spent, so had to work harder! It made me feel important, and being ‘busy,’ was always a good excuse for not doing things I didn’t enjoy.
But cancer entered into my life and threatened to bring everything to a very quick halt! I was told in extremely clear terms that my life was limited in the short term, 6 months at best if the treatment didn’t work, which puts things into perspective. This forced me to prioritise things in a way I had never done. Firstly the hospital appointments had to be done, and there were many of them. Then the family arrangements and afterwards anything else that I was physically able to do. As my treatment accelerated, there was much less spare time available, and it was as if my care had replaced the work, as my main focus.
That has now become the way ever since 2007 and is a vital discipline for me to ensure that I prioritise my personal time. My hospital appointments must always come first, then my family and friends, followed by my support work. But things are changing, and my time at hospital is less and my workload is more, and I can see that I am beginning to let my regime slip again. I have always tried to only do things on alternate days, as I need to rest in between, but I am now taking on more work to fill those days. It happened slowly at first, but I can see I am losing my discipline easily.
I was asked this week to help someone, which of course I would willingly do, but I needed them to do something. A few days passed and they informed me that they couldn’t do it until they had returned from a foreign trip. I explained that they would be busier then than they were now, so it wouldn’t happen. This was something to help them, which they couldn’t find the time to do! This really made me think how little control we seem to have with our personal time. I was prepared to give up my time to help them but they couldn’t seem to find the time to help themselves. It reminded me how I was before I got sick.
A serious illness certainly will change the way you think about your time, but why must it take something like that to happen? Time is something we will always have less of tomorrow than we had today, it is an ever decreasing asset. But most of us don’t think that way at all. I’m sure like me, you never felt that time is going to run out, and one day there will be no tomorrow. In truth, there is very little of the major stuff that we have control over in our own lives, so I guess it is just a matter of perception, but I now feel quite empowered.
Nature has forced me to make decisions about my time, and it has helped me become selfish with it. Other than the things that I must do, I make conscious choices about how I spend my personal time, and look very hard to see what the benefit of my investment will be. Will I have fun, will I be paid, can I help someone and receive some emotional reward? No more doing things that will be good for my career or to make others happy, those days are long gone. Learning to say no, more often is not a bad thing, and I know from private conversations I have, that many people are quite envious of that situation.
In many respects I am lucky of course, and I have been given time, when I didn’t expect it, and I have recovered sufficiently to be able to do something with it. But that has helped me focus on the real value of my own time. I am a natural ‘giver,’ but I have also found many natural ‘takers,’ happy to ask me to do things but less willing to share their time when required. That is all part of the learning process and helps me in my current decision making.
If I reflect on my life before cancer, I can truly say I have few regrets about my use of time. I spent a lot of it working, but loved it, as I was working for myself and we spent a lot of time travelling as a young family, which now has proved a wise decision as I can no longer travel great distances. My illness has taken a lot from me, but it has certainly helped me understand the true value of my own time!
Whether you are affected by cancer or not, do you feel you value your time enough, or do you feel that life tends to run away with you?