The Construct of Time

Time is just an agreed upon construct. We have taken distance (one rotation of the earth, and one orbit of the sun) divided it up into segments, then given those segments labels.

-Author Unknown

Before man decided to differentiate between the periods when the sun had risen, and when the moon had taken its place, there was no such thing as time. Before days, hours, and minutes ever existed there were merely rotations of the earth that brought about phases of light, and periods of darkness. But our quest for intellectual enlightenment, coupled with human curiosity urged mankind to quantify and label the earth’s rotations.

Early Egyptians divided the day into two twelve hour periods, erecting huge obelisks that rose into the sky, allowing them to use shadows to track the sun’s movements. The Greeks and Persians used water clocks called clepsydra. And Plato even went as far as to develop one of the first alarm clocks utilising water, lead balls, and a columnar vat. This creation of the clock bought with it acceptance of time and structure. The periods of light and darkness were broken down into days, hours, minutes, and seconds.

Nowadays we have wrist watches, stereos, smartphones, and numerous other devices that act as clocks. We live according to the sexagesimal numerical system established by ancient Sumerians; measuring our lives down to the nearest second, believing that time is one of the most precious commodities that one can amass.

I for one, constantly tell myself that I need more time. I convince myself that if I could just find extra hours in the day I could write more, or make a better effort to see my friends and family, or be healthier. On the surface these grievances with my insufficiency of time seem justified. I’m a busy man. I work, I run a website, I write novels, and attend university. On top of that I have to maintain my health and fitness, spend time with my partner, and so on.

But those grievances are nothing more than excuses. Time is a creation of man. It isn’t, nor was it ever intended to be our ruler.

I recently attended a seminar where the lecturer stated that within every adult is a child, and in the heart of that child lays an unanswered question, or questions. They are the compulsions that drive us, the insecurities that cause us to lose sleep at night, and the reason we hide behind excuses like time. These questions claw at our subconscious during moments of high tension and cause the fragility of our ego to rear its ugly head. We ask ourselves about our own importance, or question our safety, or query the significance of our very existence.


But because our minds are not programed to interpret and quantify such harrowing questions, their manifestation is interpreted by our brains as fear. We fear failure, embarrassment, uncertainty, success, and a million other things. But our ego prevents us from acknowledging that we are insecure, vulnerable, and afraid. While we wish that we could tell ourselves and others that we are struggling, we refuse to accept our own weaknesses. We blame our failure to launch, or our refusal to extend ourselves beyond our reach on bullshit excuses like time.

When you cast some objectivity on our willingness to limit our own potentials and refusal to acknowledge the unanswered questions of our innermost self, it seems ludicrous that we so often choose to hide behind a construct that started with obelisks and clepsydras. And yet, people do it every day. I do it every day. I tell myself that I am too busy to relax with my partner, or to see friends, or that I don’t have enough time to stop and enjoy life.

At times this foolish notion that I can’t squeeze anything more into my days leaves me frustrated and ashamed. I look at the lives of others who are spending their time with family, or writers that don’t need to work as hard as I do to survive and it makes me bitter. I have been known to cuss out strangers before, believing that their lives are easier than mine, because they have more time than I do. But the truth is that they don’t. It is illogical to think that these strangers have somehow found a way to defy science and create more hours in their day than I have in mine.

The reason that I look at these people who have seemingly made it in comparison to me with such loathing, is that despite all of my successes as a writer and a man, I’m still petrified of failure. I have devoted years to writing manuscripts and blogs, and at times it has felt as though I am on the verge of creating a career through literature. Yet I’ve never quite managed to become the massive success that every artist dreams of becoming.

My unanswered question forces me to continuously ask if I am good enough, and how it would feel to fail. When panic and self-doubt starts clawing at my subconscious and undermining my confidence, I play the time card. I tell myself that I am too busy to fully embrace my dreams and become the man I have always dreamed of becoming.

The truth is that at age 27, time is still my friend. I have already come a long way from the emotionally fragile man that created this weblog four years ago. When I started blogging I had a list of unanswered questions and insecurities a mile long, but through writing I have managed to discover the answers to many of them. I’m no longer afraid of accepting my vulnerabilities, nor am I afraid of exposing heart and mind to the world. There are posts on this website that I wrote with a smile on my face, and there are many that I wrote with tears running down my cheeks.

Nowadays my list of unanswered questions has been whittled down to the two entries mentioned above. I ask myself am I good enough to be positioned alongside the literary elite? And am I willing to strive so hard for my dreams that I am prepared to risk spectacular failure? When these questions cause me to doubt myself I still tend to shield myself from heartache by saying that my busy schedule and lack of time is holding me back.

But using time as a means to avoid your unanswered questions will ultimately leave you feeling unfulfilled. The construct born through the creation of obelisks and clepsydras should never stop anyone from achieving their dreams. For me personally, when I hear myself use this act of deference to protect myself I need to be conscious of what is really causing me pain. Am I really complaining about a lack of hours in the day? Or do I need to dig a little deeper and confront the fear of failure that is really holding me back?

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Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

81 thoughts on “The Construct of Time”

  1. This is lovely and I find as a writer, the journey always bears fruit…of every sort. One does not truly understand the weight of concepts built into our mind or life yet as we go along, discovery and awareness sheds more light. It has been a similar experience for me. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Interesting, deeply thought-provoking post. I fear failure sometimes, but not so strongly that it keeps me from pursuing my dreams. I will continue to chase after them, because if I don’t, I know I will regret it for the rest of my life. I fear an empty life full of regrets for what I didn’t do more than I fear failure.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, and some of it resonated in the best possible way: it made me uncomfortable because I recognized in it some of my own fears, failures and wishes. About 10 years ago, I decided to never again wear a wristwatch. I didn’t do it because I wanted to “escape” the passing of time … or that wearing a watch made me a slave to a schedule … or that I never want to know what time it is. I did it because I wanted to be (at least a little bit) free of the constant reminder of a construct that usually only makes me want to rush whatever I’m doing so that I can get to the next thing. It might be silly … but it was one of the best personal choices I’ve ever made. I’m sure the result is all in my mind … but so was that pressing a watch inspired need to move on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris.

  4. Indeed our ego tries to get in the way of us realising that we are insecure. This can sometrimes lead to other disasters that will humiliate us anyway, Thank you for such a beautiful post “…if i could find extra hours i would…”

  5. Wow. Thought-provoking! We invent a construct, or a story, to tell ourselves, to explain, to make sense of this world. Then we come to lean on them, rely on them, until we become trapped in them…

  6. Your writing is powerful. Your dreams will come true. My father told me some 60 odd years ago; “Nothing is impossible, improbable maybe but not impossible.” My age is probably against me, but it won’t make it impossible for me to realize my dream. I will keep trying even if it takes forever. :o)

  7. Wow… most of what you wrote, took the words out of my mouth. Also been feeling the same way about “time” for some time, usually not about myself, but about others. How silly that excuse is. You choose to work hard, to work late, to do something other than meeting my friends (guilty here too btw), time has nothing to do with that.
    And what holds us back is our fear of a lot of things as well as our laziness, we are too comfortable most of the time, so changes come hard. And most fears and questions come from our childhood, they just evolve with experience. Some of them hold us back, some of them push us forward.

  8. Time is man made. We float in space and live in these bodies to experience the human condition. Our souls forever learning and confined in self imposed measurements of space. I love this post.

  9. Space extends beyond you in every direction to infinity. That means you’re at the center of the universe. But space also extends to infinity from me too. So I am at the center of the universe too. But aren’t we in two different places?

    The same is true about time. Time extends from this moment infinitely into the future (presumably) and also infinitely backward (at the very least to the Big Bang). Therefore this moment is the center of time—but so is every other moment.

    Our dreams of success are just feathers we are chasing on the wind. If we catch it we will either squeeze so tightly as to crush it, but if we don’t hold on tight enough it will simply slip away.

    Whatever you are doing right now is the most important thing and is your purpose. That will change with every moment. If time is a construct and we are simply learning how to survive in infinity, then maybe it doesn’t matter if we spend “enough” time writing or with our loved ones. What we love is beyond measure and so every moment we are left wanting more.

    Great writing. Keep going. Life may seem like crossing the ocean and looking for shore with endless days of nothing but water. But you’ll get there—in time.

  10. awesome picture and great essay. seems most of us are slaves of time. there is never enough. still, i am far better off than most being this healthy at my age. it would appear i still have plenty of time. no way can i waste a minute of it.

  11. I really enjoyed this, love the quote at the beginning. I think you’d find great interest in my philosophy book, Humanity’s Forgotten Reflection, Chapter 4 – The March of Time and the prologue to a novel I’m developing called Godcraft: The Omniparadox. What is a century to an eternity? What is a year if Earth is removed from the equation? Here’s a link to Chapter 4 – The March of Time.

    The March of Time – Ch4 – Humanity’s Forgotten Reflection

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