No Time Like The Present
Hope for tomorrow while treasuring today
Optimism is a future-focused word. It usually insinuates that the future will be better; or at least, the future will be good. Americans are inherently a future-focused bunch, and traditionally we have felt pretty damn good about our chances. It’s a spirit that has sparked westward expansion, leaps in technology, and brand new ways of thinking by entrepreneurs.
But I’m noticing the downside of optimism lately. By focusing on the future, there is a lack of appreciation for the present. Thinking that tomorrow will be better than today does not have to preclude acknowledging that today is worth valuing. Today could be pretty damn good. Even if today isn’t great, there’s a decent chance that our future selves will find a way to look back at it fondly.
How does always looking ahead impact us?
Parents who are in the cyclone of raising a new kid seem to get caught in the “can’t wait” dilemma. They “can’t wait” until their newborn starts to have a personality. They can’t wait until their kids start to walk and do things. They can’t wait until they are potty-trained. They can’t wait until they are out of their bratty teenage years.
Taking this example to the extreme, there’s a chance that your kid hits 18, moves out of the house, and all of the sudden you have to settle for “can’t wait-ing” for them to come visit. You’ve future-focused your way out of two decades of the journey of creating a human.
The same goes for jobs. “Optionality” and “exit opportunities” are the buzzwords of so many career-starting kids in their 20’s. They see some jobs purely as avenues to unlock what they actually want to do afterwards. It’s no wonder that the opportunities that provide the most optionality are referred to in a particular way. I “did” investment banking for a few years. I “did” business school or law school. Not worked at or attended. Did.
You Are Where You Are When You Are
Acceptance of the present as a thing to be enjoyed and not endured isn’t something that comes from repeating a mantra over and over again. Instead I’ve found that it’s an appreciation of life as a series of stages. Each stage is something that will inevitably end, and so it should be lived-in fully while it’s happening. It would be tragic to miss any of the literally once-in-a-lifetime stages of your existence.
You might be in high school ready to skip that Podunk town for the big university. You might get to college and feel impatient to start your life in the real world. You might dream of making a ton of money and finally getting out of your closet apartment. You might dream of when the kids are out of the house so you can get quiet once again. You might dream of retiring and playing golf all day in Florida.
What if instead of dreaming about the next steps, you acknowledge that they will inevitably come? And if they are going to come, then that means you are actually free to enjoy each successive stage.
Part of this is knowing what each stage is and what the best parts of them are. If you’re in your 20’s, understand that it’s the most ideal time in your life for working hard, taking risks, and meeting a ton of people that will help you down the road. That way in those dark nights when you’re still grinding it out in the office, you’re not pining for the future, but instead appreciating the hustle you’re giving in this time of your life. Think about the things you will lose in the next stage and appreciate them now.
For the raising-a-family stage, it’s both terrifying and helpful to know that each two month period equates to 1% of a kid’s life from zero to 18 years old (Daddy come back! We only have 30% left!).
Let’s say you’re a parent and a job opportunity comes along that could mean huge financial rewards down the line; it would also mean a lot of time away from home. I know many parents who have pursued that opportunity, arguing that in return for the missed time with their kids - those percentage points - they are creating more opportunity for “better” time down the road. Maybe that’s a trade worth making. But always remember that each 1% ticks by unrelentingly, and they always reach 100%.
What You’ve Done Impacts What You’ll Do
Flipping it around, there is also the fact that stages are not independent; they build on top of each other. Stages aren’t guaranteed; they change based on decisions you make in past stages. If you put every dollar you had in bitcoin in 2012, your stages changed (you’re rich!). If you did the same exact thing but in November of 2021, your stages changed as well (you’re poor!). Reputation, friends, dollars… these all will carry with you from stage to stage, adding, subtracting, improving, and declining.
Different people have different stages as well. If college isn’t for you, then you won’t have the college stage. If you don’t have kids then there may be a few different stages spread throughout that traditional 18 year span. No matter what, we transition between various experiences and various spurts of growth throughout our life.
And to not understand what stage you’re in, that it will end, and how to make the most of it while it’s happening, is to waste a truly limited resource.
P.S. Of course in truly bad situations, it’s best to try to rocket to the next stage as fast as you can.