In 2008, Randy Pausch addressed the graduating class of Carnegie Melon University. Nine months into a terminal illness—6 months past the life expectancy his doctors had given him—Randy had a few things to say about how we spend our time. As he faced the terminal illness that would take his life only a short time later, Pausch, a man who had spent his life achieving childhood dreams, advised the graduates, “It’s not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not.”
We are each born into this world for a divine purpose: spiritual transformation. In his book, Secrets of the Bible, Michael Berg states, "The only place where a person can correct, the only place where a person can elevate, is the physical world. In the Upper Worlds, there is no growth. An individual cannot do spiritual work to perfect the soul or to elevate it in the spiritual realms; that can only be accomplished in this world." Kabbalah teaches us that we are given just enough time to achieve what we have been put on this earth to do—no more, no less. Therefore, we have no time to waste.
In the biblical story, Va’etchanan, Moses stands atop a mountain where the Creator shows him the land of Israel—the hills and valleys of fertile land he and his people wandered through the desert to find. This land represents so much more than a promise. Kabbalists explain that the land of Israel symbolizes spiritual perfection. By connecting to the land, Moses allowed his people and the generations to follow the opportunity to awaken the Light of Israel, an opportunity not to be wasted.
Carpe diem, teachers tell their students. Seize the day—it’s advice often given to our youth, who have turned it into a popular acronym: YOLO (you only live once). Yet, it never loses its relevance. We are just as likely to fall victim to procrastination at any age. Behavioral economists, Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch call this the “resource slack.” They found that when they asked participants in a study how much extra money and time they anticipated they would have in the future, people imagined that money would be limited, a realistic assumption. Though conversely, they expected time to become more abundant in their lives. This may account for our tendency to put things off until tomorrow, next week, or next year.
We seem to think that we will always have time; passing up an opportunity is not a big deal because another won’t be far behind. Kabbalistically, this simply isn’t so. Michael Berg explains, “We don’t realize that we don’t have limitless time to correct, to elevate, and to grow, for once our soul leaves this world, that opportunity is no more.”
But I just don’t have the time! This becomes the procrastinator’s favorite excuse for declining projects, passing up opportunities, or for failing to meet a deadline. The truth is we often unwittingly exaggerate the time needed to complete pressing tasks. This is known as Parkinson’s law, an adage coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955. He said work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
For example, imagine you have set aside four hours of an afternoon to clean your house before entertaining out-of-town guests that evening. If all goes as planned, it will indeed take four hours. However, when your guests call to inform you that they will be arriving two hours sooner than expected, you focus your energy and pick up the pace, completing the same chores in half the time.
The lesson for us on a larger, spiritual scale is that all we have is the time we are given. The moments we waste away will never be returned to us. Spiritual work is continuous. Therefore, opportunities taking us to the next spiritual level present themselves continuously. It is our choice to make excuses, while standing by idly, or seize the day. As Randy Pausch said in his Last Lecture, “Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.”