Living in the Future Can Ruin Your Life

Hello, and welcome to new life: examined readers. I’m glad you’re here.

I'm staring at the proverbial blank page (screen) as I do oh-so-often wondering what the hell I'm going to write. I have a long list of ideas, so it's not a lack of things to write about; I just can’t decide which topic to tackle today. 

One idea that's been on my mind a lot is the future. It's an intangible concept, a point that never arrives, yet many of us spend much of our time there. 

I’m a future-dweller instead of a past-lingerer, and I've always been this way. 

Yes, there are things in the past that haunt me, moments of sadness and regret that I can't seem to shed, but I spend way less time looking back and ruminating than I do imagining my future.

You know, the future! It's when life is really going to begin!

I've been a future-caster as long as I can remember. It's not been the most beneficial activity as it has kept me from enjoying and even noticing the life right in front of me.  

The Future Never Arrives

A positive attribute of the future-forward outlook is the ability to imagine many scenarios, like what will happen if you zig instead of zag or if you do instead of don't. It's an accessory to creativity but can be exhausting and unfulfilling when it's the place where you spend much of your time. 

A little future-dabbling is fun. The future is where ideas and dreams go to play. The future is a fertile ground of what ifs and why nots. And, living in the future can ruin your life. 

Being able to imagine the possible was partly what got me to Portugal. That is, envisioning my future life in Europe plus a lot of hard work. Turning vision into action is the critical element needed to realize the imaginable vs. just stuck in the thinking of it all. Getting lost in the future can be just as paralyzing as being rooted in the past.  

I think about this Lao Tzu quote often:

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 

If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 

If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

                 ― Lao Tzu

The people I know who live in the past do seem to tend toward depression, and we anxious types, well, we're already on tomorrow before today has begun. That's just my subjective assessment, of course, but I wonder if this holds true for you and the people you know. 

Learning to be Here

The most significant change I've made in learning to be more present was moving abroad. 

Moving to a country where working to live, not living to work, is the way of life—along with a culture that prioritizes lingering over a simple meal or coffee with friends—keeps me here and now. 

My brain can't do much else but be here, now. With the Portuguese language flying around me from all directions, cultural norms to learn, and gaffes to correct and laugh about, my brain has little time to be elsewhere.

When I step outside my apartment and hit the sidewalk, I have no clue what awaits me. I have to be sharp and focused; I can't be on auto-pilot like I could when I lived in the States.

Often this situation of hyper-presence depletes me as it did today, after spending several hours at what I call the big grocery store. By the time I finished shopping I had to wait 30 minutes for a car to be available (big heavy bags, not walking home). I eventually made it home but I was toast for the rest of the day. 

One big thing a day, that's all I can do, and sometimes grocery shopping is a big thing. 

Portugal, along with my anti-ambition condition that I've written about in other essays such as Purposefully Purposeless and In Praise of an Ordinary Life, has helped me get better at letting the future be whatever it will be, chimera that it is.

Perhaps that's why Portugal is such a good fit for me. My Portuguese friends don't ask me what I do for a living or how I spend my time, and we don't try to impress one another with how busy we are because we aren't. It's the perfect place to be for a reformed future-looking junkie like me.


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