Sunday Snippet: Seneca the Younger

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Sometimes, we think of this as a distinctly first world problem. We might think of this as a distinctly modern problem. But even when we go all the way back to the time of Ancient Rome, we discover that the sense of not having enough time has been a problem that has plagued humanity for millennia. And that’s the thing: the problem has to do with our mindset and not to do with time itself.

Not to be confused with his father Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger was a Roman philosopher, humorist and dramatist who lived from 4 BC to 65 AD. The quote above comes from one of his best known works, De Brevitate Vitae, which is usually translated as On the Shortness of Life. And indeed life is short and that’s what makes our time on Earth all the more precious.

And since we only have this short time to strive for greatness and to achieve our goals, we need to be mindful about how we go about living our lives. As Seneca points, so much of our lives are “wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity.”

Perhaps it comes from this sense of bold Roman ambition and high societal privilege that Seneca is able to make such a statement. It is only from that kind of position that you can even try to work less and do more with your life, as you become less concerned about putting food on the table and more concerned about far more existential issues. If you are reading this blog post, chances are that you’re in a pretty good place in your life.

All the great minds and all the great heroes in history were fundamentally presented with the same opportunity as you and I. Life is what you make of it, as long as you remember that time can only be spent, not saved. And how you choose to spend your time is entirely up to you. Will you waste it in luxury or will you make a difference?

Image credit: Calidius (CC BY-SA 3.0)