At 23, most of the people I speak to and interact with are under 30. The younger they are, the more extravagantly they seem to plan their lives in advance. People have five year plans, ten year plans, twenty year plans. I know people with great lives, ample resources and healthy bodies who can’t wait to be 45 so they can retire. Allow me for a moment to assume my best Jerry Seinfeld voice and ask, “What’s up with that?”
I see this as the natural continuation of the way most “social security-minded” baby boomers believed it was best to raise kids. The future was always viewed as a great hopeful bastion of possibility. Save, sacrifice, and plan ahead. Plan, plan, plan. The irony of this is that there seems to be a generation of ambition young people who have been looking forward to a nonexistent future since they were old enough to even have goals. In the same way, their parents are retiring with half the money and half the health they expected to have when they’d planned their future 40 years in advance in an entirely different era.
The culture of hope and forward-thinking plans has always relied on a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction with the present moment. Only those who are unhappy with themselves now feel the need to work so single-mindedly towards a glorious later.
There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. We run into problems, though, when we obsessively try to plan life in advance. The best lives are led fully day-by-day. People who are good to others, work hard, cultivate mindfulness, and discipline themselves end up growing into new, better people. They can’t plan ahead precisely because doing so would require them to sell themselves short and to not account for the very spontaneity that makes life worth living.
All of the most successful and interesting people I’ve spoken to live this way. They put their all into each and every day, focusing less on future projections and more on maximizing every moment of their time. They make personal time as thoughtful and leisurely as can be. They make work time as driven and focused as can be. They optimize their chaos and their calm. This balance should be achieved over 24 hours, not 50 years.
Why? The more we plan ahead, the more we fear life not conforming to our plans. This fear builds and builds. It keeps people from ever exposing themselves to failure, to risk, to what makes life interesting. These risks are the fuel for a meaningful and rewarding life. Ignoring them out of fear usually leaves people feeling that life is boring or pointless.
Focus less on the future. Focus less on hope. Focus less on your ideals, goals, and fantasies. All of those things are ‘out there’. They’re clouds floating by. You only have so much attention; why not direct it towards mindfully making the most of each day? Lastly, let us remember that embracing present and planning for the future are not mutually exclusive; the most rewarding future is often created by living as wholeheartedly and balanced as you can today.