Recently I got a haircut. And, as you might expect, nothing particularly surprising happened.
But, as I was paying, the hairdresser asked a question. “Do you have 50p by any chance?”
Immediately I sprang into action. I searched rapidly, poring through my wallet, tipping coins into my hand and picking out the right change for her.
She whispered something to me I could barely hear. “Relax, no-one’s throwing you out!”
I laughed and smiled and gave her the money. I hadn’t been feeling especially anxious, so I assumed she was joking.
But as I walked away I realised she wasn’t joking. More than that… she was right.
I had been acting as if I were incredibly nervous, even though I wasn’t. Some ingrained habit was stressing me out as I was paying.
I wondered what it was. Perhaps I had been imagining a queue of angry people behind me waiting to pay.
Later, I realised that part of it was fear of wasting her time, as if she couldn’t wait just a few seconds while I found the right change.
I know I’ve felt this fear of wasting others’ time before.
When I was seeing a therapist, I used to apologise for wasting their time as they listened to me talk. They assured me I wasn’t, but it took months before I started to believe them.
When I see doctors I still have that feeling of “I’m wasting their time, someone else is probably sicker than me” – even if I have a clear illness and need treatment.
When I’m paying in a shop, I rush, so as not to waste the time of people behind me, or the person behind the till.
I justify this to myself as simply politeness. And, of course, it is polite to value other people’s time! I certainly wouldn’t advocate deliberately wasting it.
(Particularly since I used to live in London, where the slightest hint that you might be wasting a nanosecond of time for anyone behind you is met by palpable hostility. Maybe that’s where I picked this habit up?!)
But – as with virtually everything – the opposite extreme is also a problem: we shouldn’t undervalue our own time.
It’s okay for me to take a moment to find the right change in a shop. It’s okay for me to seek help and talk to a therapist, or to go to a doctor, or to use somebody else’s time. It’s not ALWAYS a waste – only if I actually am wasting it.
That’s all I want to say today: value your own time appropriately.
Otherwise I’ll keep this short. Not because I wouldn’t want to waste your time, but… well.
Several thousand hairs were harmed in the production of this post.
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