The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time, the right or opportune moment, in which everything happens.
When I was starting out, in my first big corporate ‘dream’ job that made others envious, I had yet to realize I was going to be struck by a lucky bolt of lightening. A real ‘ah-ha’ moment was on its way. A great job? No, the job turned out not to be that stupendously dreamy; it had a good title but came with a never-ending list of life-sucking things to do. It wasn’t the job itself, but the good fortune that the boss, Barb, that came with it. She taught me how to tell time.
She could see that I was in a dangerous arena: mid-level management reported to me their disgruntlement with upper management—and expected me to fix it, preferably by the end of the day. Just before I was about to cave to this impossible task, Barb pulled me aside to tell me what the real job was about. “We all have hours in the day,” she said, “filled with things to do. That’s chronos time. I can’t change your hours. But that’s not the only way I want you to define your work.” She met with me each week and asked what I did. She also asked me the ways I had improved as a colleague for my peers, as a person, or in my reactions when made a target of angry corporate stampedes. “Life between the hours,” said my wise leader, “is what you will take with you the rest of your life.” It is called kairos time, she said, those moments or episodes when you get to define times in your life and your reactions to them.
Over the years, there have been better jobs, exhausting jobs, long hours, unappreciated hours, and eternal days of early motherhood. Whether running a company or raising children, we write the times of our lives on our kairos clocks. Our watches may tell us the hour, but moments give us time to become more, not just to do more. I became a better employee and learned an important life lesson, the day I learned to tell time.
How do you measure your days? By the change of the calendar? Or the change you make in yourself? What time is it, for you?