I first heard of the term “future living” at a time when my present was not going the way I’d planned. I spent many moments saying things like, “When such and such happens,” or “If this or that were to be”. My therapist gently called me out on this pattern of thinking, pointing out that it’s a way of not dealing with my present. Avoidance. Denial. Future living. At first I wondered what could be so wrong with planning ahead & having a clear picture of what I wanted for myself. I could picture my dreams very vividly, but I also was not bridging the gap between my present and that seemingly perfect future that was waiting for me.
I am still guilty of going through cycles of that now: completely certain that with sweat & discipline I will have a rockin’ figure in a few months when I am reunited with old friends on vacation, but let me just scrape the cold cheese & sour cream off the bottom of my California fries’ take out box. I know what my more aggressive workout regime should be, but I’m future living that it’ll happen and I’ll be very successful at it eventually, just not now.
I soon learned that the future living mindset was not going to cut it. I realized I hadn’t the time for that, nor the energy to waste on it. My present was not terrible, just more challenging, uncontrollable and stressful than I was prepared for. Future living would be a nice distraction, but it actually kept the present stagnant, with nowhere to go as long as I failed to do anything to acknowledge it and shake it up. Without a fluid present, there is no future.
What is it about the appeal of the “what if?” It has neither a start nor an ending… It just floats around, unblemished & full of promise. Past “what ifs” are the same thing. Gladly, I have learned to live with very very few regrets, save for some mean and bratty behavior I still regret displaying with an old boyfriend. He really didn’t deserve to get it the way I dished it out at the end of our relationship though it was MANY years ago and we are on decently friendly terms today. Now I know that the regret has much more to do with me than him, just being appalled at how I once was, and hoping not to be paid back in karma points years from now with a daughter who shares my old flair for the dramatic.
Other than that, now and then I’d think about, “What if I pushed for worker’s comp when I took a bad spill in the stock room at that job years ago,” “What if I’d paid closer attention to those older relatives of mine whose family stories & experiences died along with them,” “What if I tried to be a better friend to that girl I’ve lost touch with,” “What if I pursued that graduate degree,” and so on.
What does one do with all of those “what ifs?” You turn them to “What nows?” If we have the creativity in our minds to play out “what ifs?” wouldn’t that mean we similarly have the mental resources to plan concrete steps towards a “what now?” What should I do about it now if it really means that much to me? Aren’t we all capable of bridging that gap between if and now?
In February of last year, I found a high school classmate on FB. I had fond memories of her and her kind, smiling face. She and I hadn’t been in touch for twenty one years and the end of her message to me read, “my life after high school wasn’t exactly like i planned it but the twists and turns still led me to becoming a doctor. how about you? do you still write? how are you?”
I was seriously taken aback that she asked about my writing. That was a long time ago but she remembered that I liked doing it. Though writing was not a priority for me at moment of that FB message, I felt a sudden wave of past and future “what ifs” so I answered, “When you asked me if I still write, I really had to think, because I have been too afraid to pursue it, though all these years I have been a teacher of young children which I love. BUT who knows, if I start writing again, I may have you to thank.”
It’s true that trying and failing is scarier than not trying at all. It is scary to risk turning something in my present into another past “What if” as it may be seen a few short years in the future. Not wanting to be stuck in a “What if” vortex, I am choosing to do something now, and changing the direction of my career. There, I said it, “career” not hobby. “What if I became a writer?” is going to be “What now can I do to become that writer?” It is time to take ownership of that “what if” because that time for me is now. Everything I did or didn’t do before and what I do picture for my future only will make sense if I bridge that gap now with what I do today. I am ending tonight’s post with the same paragraph I ended my message with in response to Dr. Bricker (yes, my classmate is a doctor on a ship!).
“You said it, life sure has its twists and turns. They still lead us to the lives we want, as long as we both believe and act on it.”
I think it’s high time I thank her.