The Pandemic Paradox: How MORE Time Became LESS Time

When I made my New Year Resolutions for 2020, I obviously did not incorporate the impacts of the upcoming pandemic into them. My resolutions weren’t  even that fancy to begin with. It had all the usual suspects in them – eat healthy, work out more, write more, read more, travel more, etc. Those were all things I had attempted and succeeded (and failed) to various degrees on many many previous occasions.  But the fact is I was about 1-2 months into working towards my ‘resolutions’ – in a manner of speaking – by the time 2020 rolled around.  I was already quite set in my workout routines and was completing a book every 2-3 weeks. My diet was the easy part that didn’t even need a resolution as such. But I figured it was the beginning of a new year, and I decided to formalize these goals or processes into resolutions anyway. 

The first 2 months went great. I kept up with my workout routine, had lost more than 15 lbs, and had developed good strength in my muscles. I had completed 4-5 books and had even written reviews on them. My Reading List on GoodReads was growing and I was pretty confident of completing most of them that year. All in all, I was feeling great. 

Then the pandemic hit, Toronto went into its first lockdown, and both the wife and I began to work from home. The immediate consequence of this was that our new routine – one without the commute – gave us an additional 2-3 hours overall everyday for ourselves. I was obviously overjoyed when I considered what those 2 extra hours could do towards my goals each day. I presumed it would give me the flexibility to move around my activities and still have all the time available to do what I needed to. Plus, if I couldn’t do something on time, I always had some extra time available later in the day to squeeze it in. To make use of this time, I even purchased some home weight equipment as the gyms were all closed. All in all, I was excited about what this new lifestyle was able to offer to help me achieve my 2020 resolutions. 

But what actually happened was the complete opposite. My workout routine practically evaporated within a few weeks. I probably read a grand total of 1-2 new books for the rest of the year. And I think I maybe wrote about 4-6 posts in here at most. I was obviously very disappointed with what I initially perceived to be a lack of discipline on my part. To an extent, that initial perception was indeed correct. But over the past several months, I have also understood something about the nature of time, my own perception of it, and how this impacted how I make use of it.

The paradox at the heart of this was that I was making significantly more use of my time when I had LESSER time available as compared to what I did when I had MORE time available. If I had only 3 hours of time available for myself each day, I made a bigger effort to use that time than those days when I had, say, 5 or more hours free time available. It definitely appeared counter-intuitive. If I have more time, I SHOULD be able to accomplish MORE, not LESS. But there I was – having accomplished A LOT when I had far lesser time on my hands, as compared to achieving practically NOTHING when I actually had MORE time. 

I could attribute this to a combination of procrastination, lack of discipline, and absence of motivation arising out of staying home for extended periods of time. But that would not paint the complete picture. At a more fundamental level, I have realized that just being aware of the availability of more time can lead to a general attitude of “It’s OK. I have more time to complete these tasks or goals.” This ultimately leads to not doing anything in the present with the expectation that there is enough time to do it in the future. But when there is no extra time available, I do not have the ability or option of ‘doing it later’ – inevitably leading me to utilize the available time in a much better way. 

Perhaps it is like Supply-Demand-Price-Value. The lesser I have of anything, the more valuable it is – leading me to put in more effort to utilize it. If the same thing is available in excess, it is not that valuable and I am more prone to simply waste it. The extra time I got during the pandemic, in essence, made the time already available to me seem LESS valuable, leading me to waste ALL my available time – existing and new. So what in theory should have allowed me to achieve more of my goals was actually what made sure I did not achieve ANY of my goals. More available time does not mean an increased ability to do what you really want in life. On the contrary, it leads to the dilution of the value of the time you already had. This will then ultimately make you believe that it is OK to waste that previously available time AND the newly available time. 

And so going forward, the biggest lesson is that I have to be acutely aware of how much time I have available and my own perception of how valuable I consider it. 

And as far as setting any resolutions for 2021, I just made sure I didn’t jinx myself by making fun of others and their own resolutions – like I did in early 2020. 

Life Lessons from AFC Ajax: Living With Societal Expectations

Read Part 1 here.

The more I thought about how Ajax expressed themselves on the pitch without fear, the more I got drawn into society’s own predicament at large. We, as a society, have always lived at the bottom of the ocean of expectations. It is an ocean of our own making, and our objective in our lives are all about just finding ways to get that Oxygen from above the ocean – but without actually rising above the water. Many have indeed tried to rise above the water. Some of them were crushed by the force of the ocean, and some were simply dragged down by their fellow humans just because the bottom dwellers could not stand being confronted with the possibility of a life beyond their complacency.

Expectations are what we are born into, grow up being fed, learn to live with, and ensure to pass it along to the next generation. This is a cycle that is as old as civilization itself. It is true of almost every person I have ever met or known in my life, and it is certainly true of my own life. I am 33 years old and vaguely remember that time when I thought I could do whatever the fuck I wanted to do. That attitude did not stem from rebellion, but from a healthy ignorance of societal expectations. I lived without fear of what I would become in the future because one, I simply didn’t care; and two, I thought I could be anyone I wanted to be! But that was an extremely short lived time though. The burden of being a ‘smart student’ in my childhood was that I HAD TO top my class, score more than 90% every time, and avoid all other forms of activities in order to achieve those objectives.

Eventually, after many years, I came to realize that those were not in fact my own objectives, but societal expectations that had trickled down through society’s different layers and eventually appeared as parental and peer pressures. But like everyone else, I just went along with it and made those my own ‘goals’ and ‘ambitions’. Over time, those ‘goals’ and ‘ambitions’ may have taken on different forms, but still continued to be manifestations of societal expectations at large. And so, ultimately, I became one among those bottom dwellers living under the ocean of expectations set by a society we did not get to choose.

It may appear that these goals or objectives are our own and come of our own free will and volition. But mostly it is just a manifestation of what society has defined as the broad expectations from all of us – depending on where we are born into (think race, economic status, caste, skin color, gender, etc). Even if we somehow live with the complete ignorance that these all are our own goals and objectives, the problem is that we still live with the associated expectations. And because, fundamentally, they are not our own, we will always pursue these ‘goals’ while living with the fear of having something to lose if we don’t achieve them.

And there you have it: FEAR. It is at the back of our minds to varying degrees depending on our circumstances. We do not live in a society where we are told “Do what you want”. We are in a society where we are at best told “Do what you want as long as it is within the general framework of what the society expects from someone in your position”. At worst, it is “This is what you are expected to do and this is what you are supposed to dream of.” I am now seeing the next generation being beaten down to submission by the same societal expectations that got me more than a decade ago. I also see the even younger ones – the truly free spirited ones – who are on the cusp of getting sucked into the ocean. Somehow, in all this, I feel that the age of that healthy ignorance seems to be getting lower and lower with each passing generation.

I am reminded of ‘The Logical Song’ by Supertramp:

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily
Oh joyfully, playfully watching me
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical

And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical
…..
I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re Acceptable
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable!

As the song says, I do believe that in the end, we become a vegetable. Maybe an acceptable, respectable and presentable vegetable – but a vegetable nonetheless. At the age of 33, I have been through enough institutions to have had my own interpretation of ‘freedom’ become narrower and narrower. So much so, that even if I were to simply decide that I would break free of these shackles and quit my job and do my own thing, I wouldn’t know what the fuck it is that I even WANT to do! Never mind the question of whether I have the resources or knowledge to accomplish it, I am unable to even figure out what it is that I truly want in the first place.

In fact why think that far ahead? Let us just look at this blog right here. What I write, how I write and when I write on this blog all inevitably are (at least in part) decided by what would be ‘acceptable’ or ‘popular’ by those who read it. Why don’t I just simply write whatever it is that I want to and not care about if it is ‘correct’, or who reads it or how people feel about it? Why am I currently thinking that people nowadays have the attention span of a goldfish, so this post would be read by more if it was split into two? Why do I even care about who reads my post? Why do I seek any form of validation at all?

The unfortunate answer to all these is that, like most others, I have been sufficiently institutionalized to seek society’s approval in whatever it is I do. And it is simply not easy to break away from that mindset. This is what living in fear of not meeting the expectations laid out by someone else can do to our lives.

I am reminded of a quote in a Daft Punk song “Giorgio by Moroder” where Giovanni Giorgio has this to say about making music:

Once you free your mind about the concept of harmony and of music being correct, you can do whatever you want. So nobody told me what to do, and there was no preconception of what to do.

Now imagine a world without societal expectations, where children are brought up to be what they want to be, where people truly pursue their passions, where people are not taught what to think, do or say, and where it doesn’t necessarily take the innocence of a 5 year old kid to come up with a question like “What Would Happen If There Were No Number 6?” (No seriously, why couldn’t I think of that question?). There would be no fear of not meeting expectations, no fear of missing out on something, and we could pursue our own goals just because we want to have fun.

Ajax may have knocked out my favorite team from the Champions League. But in doing so, it has also given me a life lesson on what it means to live without fear or expectations – societal or our own  – and what it means to pursue something just because we want to express ourselves and have fun.

Life Lessons from AFC Ajax: Playing Without Fear

I wrote this less than 2 hours after watching Juventus get eliminated by Ajax Amsterdam in the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Champions League. What I saw was not a narrative laden story of a comeback, or an underdog overcoming the odds, or a bunch of players showing ‘team spirit’, or a dazzling individual performance, or big money players vs inexperienced youth, or Johan Cryuff’s Total Football, and definitely nothing related to Cristiano Ronaldo’s broken streak of UCL Semi-Final appearances and/or trophies. (Make no mistake, you WILL read a lot of articles peddling those narratives in the coming days and weeks). No. What I saw transcended all that can be fit into a nice narrative. To me, what Ajax did and showed the world had almost nothing to do with football itself per se. Instead, what Ajax did to Real Madrid and Juventus came down to just one single idea:

A complete lack of fear.

I have been a loyal and dedicated Juventus fan for over 16 years now, sticking with the club through their current absolute dominance in Serie A and (especially) through their darkest time period during Calciopoli when they were forced to play in Serie B. I have been through enough heartbreaks rooting for this team in Europe in the last decade and a half. Losing 3 finals, getting eliminated in injury time in a knockout round, giving up big leads – I have been through them all. So when Ronaldo arrived in Turin this past summer, I was once again hopeful of finally seeing the Old Lady lift that one elusive trophy. So yes, it was extremely painful to see Juventus get knocked out in the Quarter Finals today by Ajax. But as much as that hurt, it also reminded me of why I began to support Juventus in the first place.

It was the 14th of May in 2003. A packed house at the now defunct Stadio Delle Alpi awaited the 2nd leg of the Juventus – Real Madrid Semi-final. Real Madrid led 2-1 coming into the 2nd leg thanks to their victory at the Bernabaeu. And then, this happened:

I vividly remember watching the game in my living room well past midnight. My parents were asleep upstairs and I tried my best to contain my enthusiasm by not yelling out loud during the match. At that time, I had just begun to watch football. I had no team to support and it appeared that the default team to root for among my friends circle was Manchester United. But they had just been dispatched in a rather humiliating fashion by the magnificence of THAT Ronaldo a couple of weeks prior. And I never bothered much about them anyway. But when I saw what Juventus did to Real Madrid that night, it made me fall in love with Juve for reasons I never really understood – untill I saw Ajax do the same to them 16 years after that night.

That night in Turin, Juventus played not just with a will and determination to WIN, but also with an attitude of complete fearlessness. I can still remember the excitement from that night every time Juventus got the ball. You just felt like SOMETHING would happen! The quick passing of the balls, Edgar Davids just refusing any Madrid player to pass through, Pavel Nedved pulling the strings and scoring the goal of the season, Del Piero and Trezeguet just making something happen out of nothing, Gigi Buffon reminding Luis Figo that he simply cannot score against him from a penalty kick – it was all there! That night Juventus played not just with an intent to win, but more so with an attitude of having absolutely nothing to lose. Real Madrid had absolutely no answer to Juventus running amok. Even THAT Ronaldo had nothing to offer. How do you play against a team that is just ‘going for it’ because they just don’t give a fuck otherwise? What strategy do you follow when you have the opposition coming at you just for fun and playing with a “Fuck you! I don’t care” attitude? That night, Juventus played for fun. That night, Juventus played like they had absolutely nothing to lose.

That night, Juventus played with absolutely no fear.

And I just fell in love with them then.

16 years since that night, today, Ajax reminded me of THAT Juventus and why I fell in love with them then. Like that night in Turin, Ajax today played like they had nothing to lose. They played for fun, and they played without fear. Even in the last ten minutes, when other teams would have fallen back to defend, Ajax just continued to express themselves the only way they knew – by playing without fear or having anything to lose. They eventually won the tie 3-2 (even though it could have EASILY been 6-2 or 8-2) and earned a deserved standing ovation from the Juventini in Turin. (Perhaps there were many more in that stadium who were also reminded of THAT Juve from all those years ago).

The lack of fear that Ajax played with stems from the attitude of playing like they have nothing to lose. That attitude in turn comes from a general to complete lack of preset expectations. Let us face it. Ajax absolutely did not have ‘Win the UEFA Champions League’ in their list of objectives at the start of their season. They probably still don’t. Which is why they are able to play with such a fearlessness and just have the opposition be completely clueless on how to address their approach. If they can iron out their decision making in front of goal, they can wipe out any team if they continue to play with this attitude. So I sincerely hope they continue to NOT have ‘Win UEFA Champions League’ as one of their objectives this season – until after they win it.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that due to the same lack of expectations, they will ultimately be compelled to sell their best players to clubs that do have those expectations and want to build the best team to fulfill them. That is also unfortunate in an ironic way because the very players who might potentially win the Champions League by playing without fear this year will end up in teams that DO play with the fear and expectations that they set themselves. But till that happens, let us all just appreciate and enjoy the phenomenal display of fearlessness shown by this young Ajax team.

Read the second part here.