Everyone is busy. Insanely busy. John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by the 21st century, we would be working 15 hour work weeks. What happened? Well, turns out we’re not actually that busy. In fact, we’re getting less busy.
Derek Thompson goes into our leisure time and it’s fascinating, but my point is that we’re just not working as much as people used to. People are constantly trying to find ways to do more in less time (like here, here, here and don’t forget about here.) In the last year, I’ve had 4 different jobs, done 5 internships and helped start two companies on two different continents. I, like so many of my friends, are the epitome of busy, sleepless millennials and that’s not even considering the sheer volume of Netflix I consume.
But there is one theory that keeps me going. Now, I haven’t taken a science class since 2009 and I don’t pretend to understand what natural selection really is but, from what I gather from witty anecdotes and the jokes on laffy taffy, natural selection is basically the survival of the fittest, the attributes that keep something alive will continue on into the next generation and so on.
I treat my schedule the same way. An equally popular topic these days is learning the power of saying no. It’s not great to be a “yes man.” Jim Carey learned that the hard way.
Well, my theory is basically learning to say “…maybe.”
The natural selection of time is the idea that you never shut the door on an opportunity and, if that opportunity is meant to survive, it will.
Let me explain with a story.
Last July I was in Uganda with Go Solar, a company I co-founded. While there, I heard about an internship at Solamere Capital in Boston. A pretty great firm, a great opportunity. They had never offered this internship before and it was a pretty compelling opportunity. I went through several Skype interviews, waking up at some ridiculous hours to make the time difference work and finally was offered the internship! They wanted me there in August. I would have to miss a semester of school. No problem, school is for squares.
I have a tendency to be compulsive and hadn’t completely figured out my wife’s school situation. After sitting down to talk about a trip to Boston, we realized that in order to graduate she HAD to be at school that fall. It sucked. I had to tell the company that I wouldn’t be able to do the internship. Here’s the key: I did NOT say, “Thanks for the offer, but it won’t work. Bye.” Which, surprisingly, is what most people do. I’ve been on the other end of that reaction. When recruiting for Campus Founders Fund, a student-run venture fund I worked with, I would reach out to people on LinkedIn and say, “Hey, you seem like you would be a great fit for this, what do you think?” And they would say, “Thanks for the offer but I’ve got a really busy semester. Good luck!” That is not someone that I plan to keep in touch with or offer any other opportunities to.
Instead, here’s what I said to Solamere. “Unfortunately, my wife thought she could finish her class in the winter but it just won’t work. But I would love to keep in touch and if there are other opportunities that open up, I would love to be considered.” Maybe I could do it in January. Then, in October I received an offer to move to Seattle in January for a 6-month internship with Amazon. Also a great opportunity.
I contacted Solamere and explained the situation. They were gracious enough to wish me luck at Amazon and to reach out in the summer. Guess what I’m doing this summer? Working with Solamere. Why? Because that opportunity was MEANT to survive. And by living the principle of the natural selection of time, I allowed it to live.
Obviously, I’m not saying you need to say yes to everything. I didn’t say yes to Solamere at first, I kept in touch. If you maintain those opportunities, the natural selection of time will make your life significantly more opportunity-filled. Don’t be afraid to do things, to take chances, to weigh your options. Be willing to take a job that doesn’t pay enough if it means learning what you need to learn. If you’re smart, if you think hard about things and you work hard no matter where you are, time will tell you that you’re awesome.