Carolyn Hax: Finding meaning in more free time

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 2, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

After being overweight and exhausted constantly for the past 10 years, I’ve recently started losing weight, exercising and generally taking better care of myself. And while I have a long way to go, I’ve been seeing results. I used to oversleep every day, and yet was still tired all the time. Now I sleep less and have way more energy.

And time. Having more time is, in theory, a great thing, but I have no idea what to do with it. And it’s making me anxious, so I wind up right back on the couch staring at the TV. I live alone and don’t have a significant other, although I do have a good circle of friends. I volunteer on a regular basis and attend grad school part-time.

I have a few hobbies I enjoy, but even with that, there’s too much time on my hands and into the void slip worries and what-ifs.


I realize I have an amazing opportunity to do . . . something, but I don’t even know where to start. Any suggestions?

Quo Vadis?

I can almost hear people thinking they wish they had your problem — that and, “Hello, museums, books, music, foreign languages, art .  . ?”

But I think that’s actually part of why you struggle. There’s a sense that you should be doing more.

Yet it’s hard to think of anything more personal — as in, less suited to the viewpoints of others — than how you use your free time. For example, I immediately thought to suggest becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister, or fostering homeless pets, but if you don’t enjoy kids or animals, that’s not only a non-starter, but possibly also guilt-inducing. If you don’t want to rescue kids or puppies, do you now get to wonder whether you’re a bad person for that?

So the only advice that feels right to me is turning the question back over to you: What do you have a knack for, what are you passionate about, what brings you joy?

Or, if that’s still too big to wrap your mind around, look around you: Where do you see the greatest need that is also meaningful to you? In those questions there might be the seed of something that can grow into a unifying purpose for you.

Not that having one is necessary; it just wipes out the “What now?” question for good.

Whatever you end up making of all this, you still accomplished something difficult and significant. Congratulations on breaking a 10-year-long bad habit, against what must have been a powerful gravitational pull.

Re: Extra time:

Another option is just to appreciate having some down time (something I am still working on mastering!). You do a lot, and there’s no rule that says you have to fill every free second with something meaningful. Watching TV is fine as long as “everything that needs to be done is getting done,” as you say. If it’s the “TV” part that bothers you, you can always replace it with a book or substantive magazine.

Anonymous

Well said, thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at bit.ly/haxpost .

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