Back to the present
For some time I’ve been paralysed with thoughts of the future.
Ok, I’m lying. It’s been like that almost forever, at least since I decided to create my own non-copy-paste fate and deviate from paved way by all-too-cautious previous generations.
Although I am determined and know what I want to achieve, I often feel anxious and frustrated that “my future” does not happen quickly enough.
So I punish myself with being more self-demanding and critical. My results are never big and tangible enough, to the point where I don’t see any praiseworthy (judged by myself) progress in my plans and this vicious circle make me question my choices in the first place. Fortunately, despite my all moments of sadness and helplessness, I strongly believe in what I’m doing and I know that it will be all worth it.
Living in the future is the problem many people face, but not too many talk about it. Worse, they don’t even know how to embrace their own complexity to their own advantage.
(The only more screwed up people are the ones pondering upon the past. This woulda-coulda-shoulda type can’t create anything valuable if he/she holds a constant grudge. We can’t change what already had happened, but we are in position of shaping our future by taking visible action today. Let go and start creating.)
The organized mind and thinking straight in the age of information overload
Thomas Schelling, theoretician of games and Nobel Prize winner in economics, explained such attitudes by the theory of the divided self. Postponing important issues for later comes not from laziness, but from the fact, that in each of us collide two I – the one that plans, and the one that works. In Shelling’s opinion, our personalities are not unified but split – our restless state is a result of the compilation of two beings who together compete, jostle to compel each other into something. One of them is interested in ad hoc things, what shall we do NOW, while the other represents our long-term goals and is looking at the future.
The problem is, most of us tend to live in the future, forgetting that the future is now. So how do you want to build it by delibaretely detaching your vision from the resources available now? I’m telling you this from my experience – it ain’t gonna work. You may think that you can cheat the system and find shortcuts, but in the end – you will be back where you had started, only tired as fuck, with a few burned bridges and tarnished reputation – “the-one-who-doesn’t-deliver” – along the way.
It took me some time to realise it, and I would like to spare you that feeling of infirmity. Don’t get me wrong. It is not the voice of maturity or some kind of inner child renunciation. I still deny hackneyed concept of adulthood and responsibility. I still dream high and I will always be, but after many trials of skipping the basics and drowning in the gaps, I decided to follow 1-2-3 plan.
In each case where even one element is missing, the outcome is disastrous. Daydreamers crash with reality and get “a real job”, instead of trying to build their goal in small, incremental changes. I hope you stopped believing in media fairytales of overnight success already a long time ago. Real success is the sum of little steps towards incremental progress. It won’t happen by only “wishing” it to happen. Luck is created, not drawn by pure randomness.
This is not equal to forcing oneself into doing things without passion. I just know that these little steps like taking less challenging projects just to earn a living, need to be taken. Sometimes I need to deviate from the main path a little bit more than I would wish to, but in the end this is how you arrive to the final point.
Experiencing our own presence in NOW, the awareness that our self does not exist outside of an ongoing moment, is the only real experience we have.
What distinguishes the eminent people from grey mass is their awareness that a static, permanent, independent of time “I” does not exist. Therefore, the belief that we can escape this self in the indefinite future is like lying to ourselves. The only self that exists, that is, on which I am working NOW. The more the intense work, the more tangible I am.
Masterpieces were most often not the sum of moments of elation, but the result of being consequent and conscientious. These heroic acts of staying focused and abstaining from instant pleasures of what if imagination, was (and still is) a way of being in the present – so characteristic to writers, artists and scholars.
In contrast, most of us tend to live in the future. Alan Watts in his book “The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety” writes that this attitude becomes for man a source of daily frustration and anxiety as the future can not become part of our experience, until not materialised.
The future is conjecture and abstraction that can not be experienced, hence chasing after it, makes us unsatisfied, insecure and overexcited.
Overcomplicated equation of life
There is another aspect of our forever-wandering. The reason this happens is because our mind isn’t all that interested in living in presence and being satisfied – it’s interested in validating its self-concept. That’s the default for a huge swath of humanity. Again, we should blame the nature, which shows it’s about survival, or rather it’s a distortion of the wiring developed by evolution.
Your mind’s #1 priority is your survival. But since most of us are lucky enough to have no survival issues and their body tells them they are fine (they have enough food, shelter, etc.), our minds need to generate some outcome in form of questioning:
What’s next? Is that it?
What else is there?
We let our minds wander to try to figure out who we are so that it can make that thing survive. To do this, it tries to develop a concept of “self image”. This turns out to be much more difficult than it imagined, it spends a lot of time trying out different self-images and trying to acquire evidence about which one is the real you and where should your plans be heading.
What is real me? What is the sense of living since I am going to die anyway? Anything that can give us the evidence about what’s the purpose of our lives is highly valued by our mind. So if you can become a success at something, and get other people to agree that you’re a success, or acquire the trappings of success, then the mind believes it will eventually get enough evidence of your identity to have a really solid picture of who you are and as result, you would finally find yourself in equilibrium state a.ka. peace of mind. If everything in nature is driven to reach equilibrium, why then our mind fucks with us day by day?
The problem is that we tend to compare our lives situation and starting points to someone else, whose conditions were developed in more or less favourable ways. The grass is always greener on the other side of the computer screen.
We do not know the whole story of other peoples’ way to success and how much they had to struggle. There is unwritten code of hiding the struggles but praising tangible successes, so how can you be sure that these totally unsexy email follow up despite constantly having doors slammed in your face will indeed lead you to something bigger. The problem is, none of us can foresee the future outcomes more than few steps ahead of us.
Mirror mirror on the fb wall, who’s the most fucked up one of them all?
Future is scary. Future is unknown and that is paralysing. You can not grasp it nor imagine how you are going to arrive to the desired point. But then again, if you don’t dream the not-yet-existent, then you will never even try to reach it. (“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – that kind of stuff).
Looking too much into the future paralyses us and makes us do stupid choices resulting in even more wasted time. We should not waste energy by chasing the rabbit but rather go to the butcher and get one, dead (since we are in rush to success). All that, while planning out next few steps within reachable horizon.
Someone before us perfected the art of catching this damn rabbit, so we’d better use it to our advantage and do not waste time on things which we can reach easier.
The art of being in NOW
We all want to build agile and lean, consume only what we need, share what we can in our ubernised lives. But can we really live in the moment as we proclaim?
We need to be honest with ourselves and do not afraid to seek help in defining measurable, reachable goals. We should identify our flaws such as overblown ambition as what they really are – flaws. Then we need to work on them. In my case it is surrounding myself with much more down-to-earth people who can quickly alarm me when my plans need to be chopped in pieces and cooked one by one (flavoured by lots of swearing and sometimes – tears – from my part).
Building ambitious projects, leading exemplary lives can’t be done alone. That’s why in life, like in organisational relations, you always need someone who complement your skills and behaviour. I’m a typical ENFP – a great starter, daredevil moving crowds and other individuals to dream higher. However, I need to be constantly pinched to move my plans from imagination and work within realistic resources.
This blog is a perfect visualisation of my thought progress.
Till now, I used to write pseudo-psychological monsters of verbosity (with lower frequency that I would like it to be). It was always taking me ages to think through all thoughts I want to include, and since I suffer from multithreading and long sentences, my articles were finding no one’s comprehension but my own.
I was trying too hard.
Over time I realised that self-discipline and concentration on the work where I can add value TODAY is the only way of escaping the illusion of living in future, that may never come.