The Myth of the Same 24 Hours

I admit that I’m generally a sucker for adages, quotes and platitudes. They often make sense, and sometimes they even speak directly to me. Sometimes.

And then there are sayings that get my blood boiling, because they are simply unfair and obviously perpetuated by people trying to make themselves feel good.

“We all have the same 24 hours” is one of those sayings.

O.K., technically, there are only 24 hours in each day, and as far as I know, no one gets rewarded with extra hours for doing good deeds or has hours subtracted for bad behavior. But the SAME 24 hours? It’s not even close.

For people who want to feel self-righteous, the saying works.  After all, they’ve achieved “success” with only 24 hours in a day. If others haven’t, then they obviously haven’t used their 24 hours wisely. This logic is similar to the myth that if low-income people just worked harder, they too could be financially secure. Ironically, some of the hardest working people I know are working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet. And when they aren’t working to earn meager paychecks?  They are spending time on tasks that middle and upper class people generally don’t.

In other words, when you don’t have a high income, you just have less time.

You have less time because you spend hours in a laundromat rather than throwing your clothes into a washing machine at home.

You have less time because you can’t simply jump in your car when you need to go to the grocery store, to a child’s school program or to work. You depend, and wait, on public transportation.

You have less time because you don’t have social connections with doctors who can “get you right in” as a favor. Instead, you wait just to get an appointment . . . then you wait in the waiting room.

I first became aware of the “24 hour myth” through my own struggles. I spent hours trying to do things myself that friends with bigger paychecks paid someone else to do.

And sadly, because I bought into the myth that not having extra money meant I wasn’t successful enough or working hard enough, I would pretend that I took satisfaction in “doing it myself.”

Then, at some point, I realized that “doing it myself” was the epitome of hard work.  It just didn’t equate to having more money in my pocket, a bigger house or a nicer car.  But neither did it equate to being a failure.  It did increase my understanding the value of time, and how people who can afford to buy it, do.

They buy it by paying babysitters to watch their children. They buy it by paying people to clean their homes. They buy it by eating at restaurants instead of cooking.  And sometimes they can even buy time by working for businesses that allow them to go on golf outings or to participate in charitable events to build their network and their resume (while lower-income people are generally required to stay at the work site while on the job.)

I can’t judge whether people who have higher salaries use their time more or less wisely than people with lower incomes any more than I can judge whether they work harder.  Like everything else, individual behaviors run the spectrum.  But I do know people with more money have more discretionary time to spend on working more or playing more. And just like discretionary money, it can be wasted or well spent.

As Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

And that is saying I CAN definitely buy into.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on January 6, 2012, in perspective, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Another wonderful well written blog. Love this one!!!

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