A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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“A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste” – United Negro College Fund, 1972

I hope I’m not the only one who’s been faced with a choice of what to do to pass that last hour or two before work, and ends up staring blankly into space – or into a computer screen.

It’s something we all face, and it’s something I greatly dislike.

Yesterday, as I was making my daily commute between campuses of my college, I was zoning to music that I really wasn’t getting anything from. It occurred to me as I was pulling onto the road that would lead me to the beginning of my final exams for the year, that I waste pretty much all of my time. I don’t mean that I do nothing, really, on the contrary. What I invest in is either myself or passing time between things. I pull out my phone while on my favorite gym elliptical and play a new game I’ve downloaded, or check and recheck my email. When there’s an enlightening or thought-provoking novel sitting right in front of me.

It’s a form of procrastination, in a way, and in a way, I think most things we do are forms of procrastination.

What am I avoiding? This is my new question, which gets asked multiple times in a day, sometimes hourly. What is it that I’m sitting here staring at Facebook waiting for? Or, that classic relatable first-world complaint: returning to the refrigerator to see if any new food has materialized.

What am I avoiding?

The answer can vary, I suppose. I will never claim to have that answer. What I do know is that there are environments in which people can find themselves eager to create, eager to learn, eager to invent or devote their minds to. But more often than not those brilliantly created minds end up in a job that really doesn’t use them. We settle. We go with the easy choice, without pursuing what we may discover a passion for. A fear of failure drives us invariably.

You’ve heard that question many times: What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail? Well, cliché as it may appear, if you don’t realize that profoundness I ask you to take another look at that question, and really think it through. Would you continue sitting at a desk, browsing the Internet while you think about how much you don’t want to write that paper? Will this really fulfill you, accomplish what it is that you set out to do?

What if you were to sit down in an environment that allowed you to experiment with all different ranges of thoughts, from new creations to technology to falling in love to exploring unreached mountains? What if you took five minutes from your assigned paper and wrote about something you used to love as a child? Don’t let yourself get stuck wandering about between rooms of your house or apartment not knowing where to go next, instead, while you wander, let yourself think of the greatest aspiration you have ever had – and then ask yourself if it’s still there. If it is, pursue it! If it isn’t, ask yourself why not.

Once you’ve answered that, there’s no harm and no reason to keep yourself from returning to those things you could once devote your world to. If you decide that’s a chapter in your past, great! Is there a chapter you’re afraid to begin? Where would you need to begin, in order to make it to that place you’ve been thinking about when your mind wanders?

My mother, while I began my first ever physics class in high school, learned alongside me without my advantage of a textbook. So instead of following that rigorous scheduled learning, she took to her favorite sciencesque Web sites and self-educated on black holes and their relation to the microscopic subatomic particles that make up everything. I think that’s pretty cool.

For me personally, I’ve spent some time coming to terms with the fact that investing in people, the gifts God’s given me, and personal creativity, are some of the most non-wasteful uses of my time. We all operate under this mentality that the best you can be is the most productive, most moneymaking, most selfless, most knowledgable. But at the root of all of this is that you can do nothing without proper care of the only thing you really can influence, which is yourself.

I don’t have answers. I will never pretend to know things for sure. But I know how to ask questions.

What is the best way to ensure that your time is used in the least wasteful way possible? Is it to invest it in other people? Learn everything you can and publish a journal? Graduate high school, college, grad school? Move up in ranking in your job? What is it that matters most?

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