I took this picture as the sun set on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, February 2009. I remember many things about this trip, but most of the memories are atmospheric rather than specific at this point. This trip was important to me because it was my first (only?) time traveling alone on a vacation-type trip. The solitude and self-direction was powerful for me: I learned a lot about who I really am, what I enjoy, and what I’d rather leave for others. I learned that I really love nature, art, culture, and history when traveling and don’t care all that much about shopping or spa-like “relaxing.” I figured out I’m good with directions in cities and don’t get lost all that easily (probably because I’m deathly afraid of getting lost). I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories and going for long walks that I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t love street food or care if something is “too touristy” if it is something I really want to see or do. I learned I still have no idea how to handle people who ask for money and obviously need it more than I do. I learned it’s ok to pause and watch how people who are comfortable in a place do a thing (like cross a busy street) before you try it. I figured out I loved Min Gi by how much I wished I could share these new parts of myself with him.
These are not the things I expected to get from my trip to Vietnam–and not the takeaways I understood in the weeks and months that followed my trip. If I hadn’t allowed myself unstructured time in a new place without my usual fallback entertainment, I might not have discovered these things about myself.
I have been thinking about how I spend my time when I am “free” in that the time is unstructured. Often, I will default to passive forms of consuming things I don’t enjoy and run counter to my goals and values, such as scrolling through social media, watching TV shows I don’t really care about, or eating unhealthy food. I find that if I can “choose” to do anything for a short time, I will often fall back on terrible habits that don’t bring me any real satisfaction.
Many personal finance writers will talk about mindless spending of money (a latte here, a lunch there, a tshirt over here) because it can be a major part of poor financial health. However, I am starting to consider that my mindless expenditures of time are even more detrimental to my life and goals–financial or otherwise. Jennifer T. Chan’s thoughts on solitude are contributing to this reflection, as is Cait Flanders’s discussion of enjoyable consumption.
How can I track my mindless spending of time? I think meditation is helping this by bringing awareness to my actions, but I think I will make this awareness a focus going forward.