A Little Happier: We Don’t Always Know What’s a Waste of Time, or What’s a Good Use of Our Time.

I recently went to my law school reunion. I love reunions, I love Yale, I love New Haven, and it was a lot of fun to be back to see a bunch of old friends. I saw one friend and said to him, “I’ve been telling a story about you for years, as an illustration of a point about careers. But I’ve always wondered if I have the facts exactly right! Can I tell you the story about you that I’ve been telling, and you fact-check it for me?” He laughed and said, “Sure!” So here’s the story. Fortunately, I did have my facts straight. I had a friend in law school, a guy with whom I worked on the Yale Law Journal. He did very well as a student, and as we approached graduation, he’d been accepted as a very prestigious job, as clerk for a judge on the Court of Appeals. Now, I knew this guy was a great student, and because I worked with him, I also knew that he played a lot of video games. In fact, he told me that he felt guilty about by how much time he wasted, by sneaking off to play video games when he could’ve been studying. (Not that it seemed to have any kind of bad impact.) He was married, and his wife was a writer, and she’d gone in to interview with a video-game company about the possibility of writing a script for one of their games. During the course of her interview, she’d mentioned how much her husband knew about games, so they said, “Have him come in to tell us what he thinks.” So he did. And they were so impressed by what he had to say that they offered him a job. But he’d committed to this judge—a very influential and respected judge. So he called the judge, and said, “I have this offer, and I’d like to take it. But I’ve made a commitment to you, and I will honor that commitment if you want me to.” The judge said, “I will release you from your commitment, but consider this carefully. Talk to people. Think hard, because this is a big decision to make.” So my friend did. And he took the job with the video-game company, and he worked there, and eventually ended up starting his own video-game company. So looking back, what was the waste of time? Playing video games, or going to law school? Maybe neither was a waste of time. I think of this story, and I repeat it to other people, as a reminder: We don’t always know what is preparation. We don’t always know what is a good or bad use of our time. My sister Elizabeth once said to me, “I just wish I’d watched more television as a child.” Because now she’s a TV writer! We don’t know that for ourselves, and we certainly don’t know that for other people. So I try to be very cautious when I say to my daughters, “You should be doing something else with your time.” I don’t know, I can’t know, what is preparation, what’s a good use of time? In fact, what does it even mean to “waste time?” That’s an important question.




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