serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging


Posted by Jim Selman on 11/3/06

Was talking to a friend the other night and she came up with one of those semi-profound things that sticks in your head and gets more and more interesting the more you think about it. She said: “Without limits in life, you have nothing”.

So was she saying that living without limits is not such a good idea (since limits define what is possible)? Or was she saying that living without limits is good (since once you realize you have nothing, you have everything)? This was one of those after-dinner conversations with André that become surreal after a while.

For example, as I get older I notice that if I put limits on how much I sleep, I have more time to live and do other things. I now enjoy, for the first time in my life, getting up at 2 am and reading for a few hours before going back to bed. This is a new practice for me, and it doesn’t seem to leave me any the worse for sleeping 5 hours instead of my usual 7 or 8.

Now what if I limit the time I am wasting, say reduce it from 10 hours a week to 3 hours—that potentially leaves me with 7 extra hours of time for other things. If I could limit the amount of time I spend with people I don’t like, then there would be a whole lot more time to hang out with people I do like. I am especially keen on limiting the amount of television I watch, as well as the time I spend gossiping or talking about trivial or inconsequential things. All in all, I figure if I got really good at setting limits, I would have enough time for just about everything I want to do before I die. The key is limiting the bad stuff to create room for the good stuff. This is very different than putting all my attention on the good stuff, which I never seem to get around to because I don’t have time, energy or something. I think I need to limit my procrastinating also.

Now this is where this idea gets really interesting.

When people retire, they generally enter in to a ‘no limit’ conversation—I can do anything I want whenever I want. In other words, they have, more or less, total freedom. The problem is when you have total freedom, then anything and everything is possible and you can go crazy thinking about all the stuff you might do. While we’re thinking about life without limitations (no boss, no emails, no schedule and so forth), we are wasting time. If we’re not careful, this sort of laissez-faire existence can become habit-forming. We can easily drift into becoming spectators in our own process of life and lose direction, traction, and even our capacity to drive our own boat.

I am still thinking about this, but the more I do, the more I am beginning to appreciate the power, joy and possibility of making more commitments as I get older….of the value in putting more limits on what I don’t want and upping the ante of what I do with my time.

I know it is counter-intuitive, but maybe there is more work to do as we age and become Elders—not less. Maybe retirement is the time when we begin to be leaders. It’s almost as if I need to be limiting the time I spend thinking about the way it was, the way it is and the way it might be so that I can start making it that way.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.


4 Responses to “Limits”

  1. Curmudgeon said

    Jim Jim Jim,

    You poor thing. Give yourself a break. Nothing is a waste of time unless you say so. There’s nothing inherently better about sleeping less – or more. Or watching more – or less – TV. Etc. You wanna do other things than you’re doing? Fine. Do them. You don’t need to have a reason or find an intellectual rationale for it.

    What’s that they say about taking time to smell the flowers? Just doing nothing except ‘being’ can be blissful. Buddy, you’ll wear yourself out with all those important doing things. You are getting a little long in the tooth after all. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Let it flow, Jimbo. Relax.

    Here’s a final idea – challenge. Take a whole day and do nothing that you would characterize beforehand as useful or forwarding your project or changing the world. For 24 hours just let life unfold, serendipitously. If you don’t like it, no problem. Go back to your ‘gotta go, gotta go, gotta do more, gotta not waste time’ way of life. We’ll all still love you whatever you choose.

  2. Of course you are right…the point is to live life to the fullest. If “Limits” sounds like resisting the negative
    aspects of life or for that matter laying any system of judgments on what we do, I apologize. I should have said it is about making choices as we grow older and hopefully our choices allow us ‘smell the flowers’. As a personal note, the only things I want to limit are the things which through habit or unconsciousness keep me from just enjoying my admittedly ‘purpose’ driven life to the fullest. I loved the Curmudgen blog about ‘no purpose’ — which I agree is not inherent in living, but can be ‘created’ as a game to play if we enjoy playing it.


  3. Moni said

    on one side I agree with Curmudgeon , no matter what you do, We’ll love you. And on the other side, I love who you are.
    Don’t stop it!! Thanks for this space. I truly like it

  4. From another perspective, some say that Einstein slept 10 hours a night, 11 when he was working on something difficult. Personally, I find that naps are the elixir of life.

    Don (age 92, going on 93)

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