How much is your time worth?

After much study and research, I have come to the conclusion that there are basically two types of people in the world. The first are the people who can’t stand to move their car from a parking space until they have used up all the time on the meter. The second kind are those who couldn’t care less.

OK. So you put three hours’ worth of quarters in the meter. You’re ready to leave after two hours and five minutes. Are you capable of leaving the leftover time behind for someone who’ll most certainly pull right into your space? I’m the kind of person who simply doesn’t care. But, to my surprise, many people feel differently. I might even be in the minority. Am I missing something?

I spend a lot of time in this column trying to demonstrate that attitude is everything. In other words, what you think and assume about something determines how you’re going to feel about it.

To those of you (and you know who you are) who wander around town anxiously glancing at your watch until those last precious minutes burn off, I say this:

First, it’s just not that much money. Yes, you might have just ‘wasted’ $1.50 or so—but so what? You spend $4 on a gallon of gas, lots more on a car payment, and even more for rent or a monthly mortgage. What’s a buck and a half against all that?

Second, what is so wrong about someone else getting the space? At least the money is going to use. How many times have you pulled into a space with time already on the meter? What goes around, at least in this case, does come around.

Third, is your time worth more to you than six quarters? The time you spend ‘stalling’ until the meter expires is time spent doing nothing (except worrying) when you could have been more happily engaged.
These are my thoughts on the subject, and they seem to make sense. But I hear other points of view. For example: ‘I just can’t stand wasting the money. I don’t want someone else to get that spot that I paid for. Why should they get something for free?’

It doesn’t bother me if someone else gets something of mine. I only care if, (1) they force it from me, or, (2) they feel entitled to it for no reason other than they want it. Beyond that, my attitude is to let them have it. They might as well enjoy that fifty-five minutes I paid for.I suspect that there are other reasons why some people have to use up that meter whether they need to or not. One might be a misguided sense of order and control. There’s a mental syndrome that most everyone is familiar with, but isn’t widely understood. It’s called OCD, or ‘obsessive-compulsive disorder.’ OCD is defined as: ‘Recurrent or persistent thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate, and that cause marked anxiety or distress.’ Feeling unable to leave that parking spot is not, by itself, any kind of proof that one suffers from OCD. It might, however, suggest some possible tendencies. An obsessive person feels bound and compelled to perform some kind of behavioral ritual that makes no sense (even to the person doing it). There might be a compulsive quality to refusing to abandon that meter, but I think more often it has to do with a need for a heightened sense of control.

Sometimes we all feel out of control in our lives. Perhaps we’re frustrated with our jobs, our spouses, our children, or just the world in general. Indeed, there’s plenty going on in the world to feel this way about! This might lead some people to feel—on some subconscious, yet still potent level— ‘Well, at least HERE I can have some control.’

Years ago, I knew someone who was chronically frustrated with a family situation. She confided to her friends that she acted rudely to waiters in restaurants and clerks in stores. Her friends, who knew her as a polite and generous person, asked her why. She replied, ‘I’m not sure. I only know it’s the one place I can feel like I’m in control and have a little power.’

For many people, waiting to use up that last quarter in the meter gives a strong—albeit false—sense of control they don’t get elsewhere in life. ‘It’s MY quarter and nobody else is going to use it except for ME!’ This could be a substitute emotion for: ‘It’s MY life and nobody’s going to tell me what to do with it.’

Well, I’m all in favor of self-determination and owning what’s yours. I preach these things all the time. But isn’t there a better way to express it? It’s kind of like alcoholism or other excessive behaviors where one tries to find some relief from the rigors of daily life. Right goal—wrong method! The same thing applies to ‘holding on’ behaviors about things that really don’t matter.

In the end, it’s your time you’re wasting by being so focused on the unimportant. Life, and the time spent on it, is more precious than $1.50—which is going to tick down to zero whether you’re parked there or not. So, take a deep breath, let the meter keep ticking, look both ways, pull out and get on with your day.