Everything is Limited

Whatever I’m currently doing, I cannot help but notice that it all comes down to resources in the end: Things like time, personal energy, money, etc. And what all of these different resources tend to have in common is that they are limited – very limited in fact.

I have been reminded of that rather harshly a few times this week, in two different contexts. A person that I knew and liked, even though we did not speak the same language, passed away. Then the brother of a very good friend was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness (still keeping fingers crossed). In both instances, it is pretty obvious what the limited resource was, or still is: Time.

A much more mundane example for the power of limited resources over our lives has been provided by my recent efforts as a professional copywriter. With every new freelance job I take on, a struggle of limited resources takes place. The client wants to get rid of a task (i.e. copywriting) that would take time and energy away from him. At the same time, the client also wants to give up as little of another resource of his as possible – his money. So he tries to acquire as much of the resources you are selling (your time and your energy as a copywriter), while paying as little as possible in money. The buyer ideally wants something for free.

It’s easy to become angry with people trying to pull one over on you (which they really constantly try to…). But then again: Am I acting any differently? Of course not. I also just try to gain more resources (i.e. money for a copywriting job) while spending as little as possible (in my case time and energy working on it). If someone miscalculates on the other side, I’m the first one to reach for the freebie myself. That’s humans for you.

So there is really no good reason to get angry: This is simply the way the game was set up – this is life. We are born into this existence and right away, EVERYTHING becomes about resources: Food, love, attention, education, career opportunities, sexual opportunities; you are either scoring those or you are not. Make no mistake about it; you are ALWAYS competing for those with others.

But as much as you might despise this set up – I certainly do at times – there is no changing it, at least not in this life. So as much as I can appreciate some parts of Marxist analysis, I can only shake my head at the naivety of its belief in a better future. The same goes for anarchy as a political philosophy: I understand the emotional impetus, but how you can for even one second believe that the problem of limited resources will somehow magically evaporate in some ideal future is beyond me. This is naive to the extreme.

Having said that, there is the strangest thing to be observed: Despite our existential fixation on resources, we DO often act as if we had unlimited resources; namely in the case of time. We seem to not care if we waste years working a stupid job we hate; we seem to not care wasting hours each day looking following mind numbing social media channels. We hang out with time wasters, because we seemingly have nothing better to do.

The hierarchy of resources

This is the only thing to get truly mad about: Not that we are bound by limited resources in life, but that we are so bad at making the most of them. The first thing you can’t change, the second you could but are too mindless or too lazy to. That’s the ultimate kicker:

The more important the resource, the less we value it.

Just think about it: What is the ultimate resource? Time, time and then time again. Time always comes first: If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness that leaves you with 4 weeks to live, you are done. Without time to act and to change your circumstances, you have nothing. A less dramatic example: If you are working a job you can barely stand 60 hours a week, you are effectively rendered dead too – because you have hardly any time left to act and change your circumstances either (so you better quit that job!).

Next in importance comes energy. Even though time is the prerequisite for everything, without energy it doesn’t mean that much. I always get a kick out of personal development people trying to go on a daily 4 hour sleep cycle; they are trying to gain more time awake, but usually end up completely depleting their energy reserves in the process. If you are not healthy, well rested and energetic during your hours awake, those hours mean nothing.

But then there is a whole bunch of things that we can get by on with relatively little. Money comes to mind. Sugary food is another favorite. Sex falls into this category, even though I am all for sex; but it also doesn’t hurt if you don’t get it every once in a while. Social warmth and attention is very similar in that regard: We need it, it’s healthy, but you can occasionally take a break from it – and it might even benefit you.

Yet all these things I just mentioned take over pretty much everybody’s life, displacing any concern for time or energy. The top-notch broker who is obsessed with making another billion he will never have the time to enjoy. The fat person cutting his life 20 years short and reducing his remaining years to a constant carbs coma. The guy fucking every girl he can get, throwing all other interests and inclinations out the window. The mother clucking over her children and her husband, so she can completely abandon any personality of her own.

So we turn the hierarchy of resources on its head: We waste the truly important ones (time and health, and energy to be productive), and we obsess over the ones we need much less of. I recently claimed you could measure the intelligence of a person by his or her ability to think long term. Looking at what resource he or she truly cares about is another variation of this. There a very few people who really build their life around the resource of time; not wasting it away, but turning time into your ally. These are the people who install the right daily habits and watch time work its magic on them. Time acts like a fertilizer to these habits: Stick with them and they will eventually outgrow all your expectations.

In this sense, true personal development is always linked to an acute awareness of our own mortality. Only when you regularly glance at the hourglass running out will you be able to master the effort of keeping your daily habits up; the 10 minutes of working out that will make you strong, the daily walk that will keep you healthy, the 10 pages that will keep you sharp. True personal development is about being constantly aware that resources are limited, that some resources are more important than others and most importantly: That time is running out. In the end, it means understanding that time is both your worst enemy and your biggest ally.