Cheating Yourself In Your Spare Time

“When a finger points at the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.” – Chinese proverb

There’s a young man I know — someone I’m mentoring — who has great potential but no obvious advantages. He doesn’t have a good education, has no money to speak of, and has only one serious connection — me.

He has good natural talents, a solid mind, a good attitude, the willingness to work hard, and good values.

He’s a great prospect, in short, and might accomplish very wonderful things. But there’s one very important thing he needs to do. And that’s the subject of today’s message.

He fills up his spare moments by surfing the Internet or engaging in similar amusements. I’ve caught him doing so, and so has his supervisor. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, one could argue. He accomplishes the tasks he’s assigned. He works extra hours when asked. He doesn’t complain.

But for him — and his future — it’s a shame. Because each of those spare moments presents an opportunity for him to move himself forward. Each is a chance for him to learn something new, refine a valuable skill, or make a new contact.

Whether he realizes it or not, this young man is competing against others who are about his age, have similar skills, and earn similar incomes. From the perspective of his employer and future employers, his value will grow or diminish relative to the rest of these people. To the degree that he can exceed them, he will become more valuable and his income and his opportunities will expand. If he slips behind — and he surely will if he gives up too many of these spare moments to fooling around — he will gradually be thought of as just ordinary — and eventually will be expendable.

We are all busy. We all have the burden of multiple responsibilities. But success is derived from your behavior. And how you act when you have spare time is a crucial part of it.

Every 15 minutes invested in your future is a deposit that will grow and compound over time. It may not seem like a big deal now — whether you spend that time surfing the Internet or updating your Rolodex — but in the long run it will make all the difference in the world.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]