How to deal with scarcity

Nonsense clock

// Message from Sam: Hey do you have a few minutes to talk about something?

I glance at the clock. It’s 05.45 and this is the only time I have to get writing done in the day. It’s when I commit to putting pen to paper for 45 minutes and then hitting “publish”.

But Sam is:
a) a good friend,
b) not someone I get to talk to often, and
c) always a source of interesting ideas.

What to do?

Time is precious. It’s a surprisingly scarce resource, but people either seem to either forget this or conflate if with money.

My favourite reminder of time’s value is from Seneca who says:

“I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself –as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap –in fact, almost without any value.”

His implication is that time is of great value (perhaps the highest value), and that other people both ask of it and give it freely because this value is invisible to them.

It seems then that the optimal response is to be miserly with your time, especially when it comes to the requests of others.

The problem is scarcity and how it makes us respond to finite resources. Scarcity lights a fire of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of not having enough. Fear of missing out. And so we start to hoard our scarce resources; we tuck them away and we keep them for ourselves.

But perhaps there is a third option. Perhaps the most optimal course of action is to be generous with our scarce resources. Not generous despite their scarcity, but because of it. That scarcity gives these resources more value, and so the gifts of them we choose to give are all the more precious.

I think the operative word here is to “choose”. It’s a deliberate action, taken with the full knowledge of what we are doing. We know how valuable time can be, and we give it to our friends because they are our friends, and it’s good to share value with them.

What else are we hoarding these resources for? If there is a more skilful way in which we can deploy them, then fine. But hoarding them because they are scarce and we are scared of being without them, is no way forward either.

I spoke to Sam, for longer than I would have spent writing. It was fun and informative and human and so full of value that it was a great use of time.

The result is that i’m now writing this on the 15 minute train journey in to work. Even with scarce and precious resources, you can often scrape up enough of the scraps to still extract some value. The coins under the sofa cushion, the minutes on the train, the quick hug on the way out the door.

Time is precious. It’s scarce and that makes people afraid, so be generous with it and you will find more of it when you need it. Know its value and choose to spent it how it pleases you best.

Bonus bit:
By the way, I’m not the only person who should spend time with Sam Bowring. He’s a hugely talented writer and comedian, so here are some of the ways you can enjoy what he does: