During my pre-teen years, my parents had a strict nine o’clock lights out policy. And as the dutiful, text-book, eager to please my parents’ middle child, I went to my room and attempted to do what I was told…go to bed.
I’d like you to think back to when you were nine or ten. Imagine laying in bed in the middle of the night…but instead of going to sleep, you bypass the alarm system, exit through the basement window and head to the nearest all-night movie theater! Or, you just wander around your sleepy suburban neighborhood well after midnight. Welcome to the world of a 9-year old short sleeper.
Before the age of social media, and connected mobile devices, I was burdened with the task of going to bed five hours before my mind and body were ready. Night after night from birth to the age of eighteen, I spent thirty-three thousand hours isolated and alert with an insatiable appetite for trouble and adventure. Can you imagine having an extra 5-6 hours a night without supervision or self-control? It’s a miracle, I didn’t burn the house down.
By the way, we’re not talking about your everyday garden variety insomnia. Sleeping on average 3-4 hours a night has little to no effect on my energy the next day. When I share this “fun fact” about myself, most people ask, “How do I get that”? As if it’s something that can be caught. Well, it can’t be caught! According to a study I was involved in, I was born with a genetic mutation, specifically in the transcriptional repressor H-DEC 2. Which basically means that my body is wired and capable of sustaining shorter daily sleep times than normal individuals.
When people hear that I don’t need to sleep, they say things like, “you’re so lucky, I would love to have all that extra time.” Well, it’s all about perspective. I know plenty of people, like retirees that have more time than they know what to do with, who find it difficult to fill that time. I also know a lot of people who are constantly busy, but busy with things that won’t matter in a hundred years. The point is, that time can be a burden or a blessing for you and for the people closest to you.
As a young kid, I would spend that time at night, contemplating mortality, thinking about stuff I shouldn’t be thinking about and doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. You’d think I would’ve been a great student, but I wasn’t. I loved learning, but I hated curriculum. I wasn’t opposed to learning, I was just bored with the things that I was learning in school. I preferred the stimulus from the real world, and being actively involved with the producers rather than the professors.
So, by the age of 15, I started a business, volunteered for my political party, worked part-time for my uncle and spent the wee small hours of the morning reading. I did anything and everything to keep me distracted from the burden of isolation. Unfortunately, it was a lot of activity without accomplishment. I was filling time with activity that was distracting from my roles as a student, an employee, a son, a brother and even as a friend. My burden became a burden to others as I routinely used what should have been a blessing, to drive conflict in my relationships.
It wasn’t until I turned 20, that I had a wake-up call. As I laid trapped upside down in a small two-seater that had just flipped over several lanes of a heavily traveled interstate between New York and Pennsylvania, going in and out of consciousness, it hit me. With all of that extra time… thirty-seven thousand extra hours up to this point in my life, I was a wreck. I had squandered away all that extra time on satisfying all of my desires, versus serving the greater good. Worse than that, I was a burden to everyone around me.
Despite that epiphany, the process of turning things around was slow. As my good friend and neighbor likes to say, I was more of a dimmer switch than a light switch. Part of the reason it was a slow process, is that I believed like many other people, that the secret to life balance was good time management. Being able to spend time on the things that mattered most, meant just putting it in my schedule.
Time, despite what the best-selling authors will tell you, cannot be managed. Time keeps on ticking regardless of whether you’re managing it or not. You can however, manage the activity within the time that you’re given. And since none of us know how much time we have in this life, the activity we prioritize should bring blessings to others or to help ease their burdens, not add to them. It’s for that reason that I choose to spend my time setting the stage for people to be better stewards of the time, talents and treasure God has given us.
As a child I would lie awake night after night, wondering why I couldn’t just fall asleep. I wish I knew then, what I know now. God’s unanswered prayers are often blessings in disguise. Perhaps you’re afflicted with something different that throughout your life has been both a blessing and a burden. I pray and hope, that the stories contained here, would help you to use all that you’ve been given as a blessing to everyone God puts on your path.