How much is your time worth?

Well, it’s that time again! Flowers are blooming, temps are moderating, and the parking meters are hungry. Barely a day goes by that somebody isn’t grousing about those infernal little machines. But I had an experience last season that added an entirely new dimension to the situation.

So you put three hours’ worth of quarters in the meter. You’re ready to leave after two hours and twenty-five minutes. Are you capable of leaving the leftover time behind for someone who’ll most certainly pull into your space? Frankly, I couldn’t care less. But to my surprise, many people feel differently (including the friend who recounted this tale).

I spend a lot of time on these pages trying to prove that attitude is everything, i.e., what you think about something determines how you’re going to feel about it. So to those of you 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 or so — but so what? You spend $3 on a gallon of gas, lots more on a car payment, and even more for rent or a monthly mortgage. What’s four quarters against all that?

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

Third, is your time worth more to you than a dollar? The time you waste stalling until the time expires is time spent doing nothing. Sadly, my friend sees it this way: “I just can’t stand wasting the money. I don’t want someone else to get that spot. Why should they get something for free?” Personally, I would only care about that if, (1) they forced it from me, or, (2) they felt entitled to it simply because they want it. Otherwise, let them have it.

I suspect there are other reasons, too. Like a misguided sense of order and control. There’s also a mental syndrome called “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (OCD). Feeling unable to leave that parking spot isn’t sole proof that one suffers from OCD, but it might suggest some tendencies. An obsessive person feels compelled to perform some kind of behavioral ritual that makes no sense – such as refusing to abandon that meter, but I think that more often it has to do with a need for control.

Sometimes we all feel out of control in our lives. Perhaps we’re frustrated with our jobs, our spouses, or just the world in general. Years ago, I knew someone who was chronically frustrated with a family situation. She confided that she acted rudely to waiters in restaurants and clerks in stores. I 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 gives a sense of control they don’t get elsewhere in their jobs, their home; in life. The angst of somebody else using that few cents might sound like this: “It’s MY life and nobody’s going to tell me what to do with it!” I’m all in favor of self-determination and owning what’s yours. But isn’t there a better way to express it? It’s a worthy goal, but, like alcoholism or other behaviors where one tries to find some relief from the rigors of daily life, it’s the wrong way of getting there.

Your time is more precious than that money that’s going to tick down to zero whether you’re parked there or not. So take a deep breath, look both ways, pull out and get on with your day.


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