PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: SELF-EVALUATION IN AN AGE OF SELF-DOUBT
FADE IN: A small, boxed shape room with three figures sat behind a raised panel and a single wooden stool in the centre. MS PAST, a middle aged woman, sits on the left of the panel with short hair and a smart, grey business jacket. MR PRESENT occupies the middle seat, a young man with long wavy hair, wearing a colourful baggy t-shirt. On the right is MR FUTURE, a middle aged man wearing full business attire who is writing furiously on a notepad.
A man walks in and gradually makes his way to the stool.
Mr. Present: Good afternoon Sam and thank you for coming in for your end of year review. You know me, along with Ms. Past on my left and Mr. Future on my right. As ever, we will be assessing your performance over the past year here at Life Ltd as well as looking at where you’re at today and, of course, your next steps.
Sam: Thank you sir, and good afternoon to you all.
Mr. Present: Mr Future let’s turn the cups on last year and have you begin.
Mr. Future moves forward with his hands clasped together. In front of him rests a cup of coffee, steaming and ink black.
Mr. Future: So Sam, where do you see yourself going in the next year, three years, five years?
Sam: Well this is a question I’ve thought about a lot, but as of yet I haven’t come up with a real answer.
Mr. Future sighs loudly and rests his right hand upon his forehead.
Mr. Future: So the same as last year then? What ever happened to doing a Masters at LSE, or was it UCL? Or moving abroad for 18 months to work on your languages? What about the weeks you spent looking at different law schools? The Teach First application you retracted? Or was it social work? Can you see how this is getting frustrating for me Sam? How can I paint you a masterpiece if you can’t decide on a landscape?
Sam: I’m well aware how frustrating this must be for you Mr Future. I’ve certainly been frustrated with it myself.
Mr. Future: So what do you propose? I can hardly give a high grade to your efforts judging by the lack of any clarity of vision.
Sam: But if I may sir, vision doesn’t always require a target. To take your analogy further, I would say that many painters do not know what their painting will look like when they begin. More important is what they bring to the canvas.
Ms. Past: You haven’t always brought what’s required to your canvas Sam.
Mr. Present: Please Ms. Past, your turn will come shortly.
Mr. Future: Thank you Mr. Present. Now Sam I empathise with your view, I really do. But life is a war, not a battle. You can’t run headfirst into the front line with all the valour you can muster and expect it to work out. There are a hundred front lines and each requires a different strategy. You need a plan to win.
Sam: To win what, may I ask?
Mr. Future: A position of responsibility which affords you the power necessary to affect real change in the areas important to you.
Sam: You sound like a civil servant.
Mr. Future: Maybe I am. Does that sound like a desirable future?
SAM and MR. FUTURE stare at each other coldly for several moments. MR. FUTURE turns to MR. PRESENT.
Mr Future: That concludes my part of this review. (Turning to SAM) Sam, all in all I’m disappointed. I wanted something tangible this year and you’ve given me a list of ‘almost’ projects which collectively tell me you haven’t a clue what you’re doing and prefer sprinting towards whims rather than planning for the long term. I hope you’ll bring me something to work with next year.
Mr. Present: Well, on to me then. So how are you doing Sam? Civil Servant now eh? How are you feeling about it all? Tell me what’s on your mind at this very second?
Sam: Well I guess I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. I have a job application in the runnings and I’m hoping…
Mr. Present: (interrupting) Watch out there, I’m talking about now, not possible futures. I want to know how you feel about work at this second. Remember, the future is full only of possibilities; but now is all that exists.
Mr. Future: I’ll excuse you for bringing my importance into question here, Mr. Present, seeing as I comprise of all that will be.
Mr. Present: Sorry if you’re offended Mr. Future, but I speak truth. All that will be is the consequence of what is.
MR. FUTURE harrumphs loudly.
Sam: Well I guess I feel like I’m in limbo.
Mr. Present: That’s better, so where’s that coming from?
Sam: I imagine it’s rooted in a need for something beyond logic. I heard a quote recently that resonated. Barbra DeAngelis wrote “if you let your mind talk you out of things that aren’t logical, you’re going to have a very boring life. Because grace isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. Miracles aren’t logical.” She puts it better than I could.
Mr. Present: Sounds to me like you’re searching for magic.
Sam: That would be accurate. I’ve been living through one window for so long. It’s all I’ve ever looked through.
Mr. Present: Veering into the past there Sam…
Sam: I’m sorry but it doesn’t seem like there’s much room in the here and now without making reference to past and future.
Mr. Present: From the past is born doubts and regret; from the future, agitation and a simple inability to be content. If you were incarcerated I’d still want you to focus on improving yourself here, in the present. The alternative — clinging onto what came before or tying your happiness to what you hope will happen — is at its core a pernicious form of escapism.
Sam: Fine, then I guess I’m unhappy. Let’s not go so far as to say deeply because I don’t think that’s the case, but I am tying my happiness to the future. There’s no doubt about that.
Mr. Present: Good Sam, this is progress. And the next step is to realise that a lot of this is about perspective. Let’s take yours: you’re in a job you’re not certain about and you doubt your world and where it’s heading.
Sam: I’m feeling worse now, FYI.
Mr. Present: Yes yes but let’s take another perspective, ok? You’re at the start of your career, exploring yourself and connecting with an array of interesting people. And the world needs people who doubt it, as long as that doubt is transformed into something that makes you feel compelled to change it.
Sam: Should I be paying for this service?
Mr. Present: Probably. But let me put this question to you: what are you today?
Sam: I can’t give one answer to that, and I don’t think you’d want me to. Most accurately I can say I’m a list of contractions. A desire for recklessness and security, inertia and proactivity, good and bad, compassion and coldness, wisdom and stupidity.
Mr. Present: And how does it feel to be these things?
Sam: It feels better knowing they’re there. Better than being a captain tied to the mast of his ship, forced to watch the wheel turning with the tide. I once read and largely agree with the idea that all people are built of contradictions; like an arch they hold us on a narrow path, insanity to each side. A man without contradictions to balance him will soon veer off.
Mr. Present: Thank you Sam that’s quite eloquently put. (Turning to Ms. Past) He’s all yours.
Ms Past: Thank you, Mr. Present. Sam, it’s almost been 25 years. That’s a quarter of a century. Now I have one question I want to ask you, but before I do, I want you to tell me what you think it is.
Sam: Well I’d imagine it would have to do with the last year — how I feel it went, for instance. Whether it met my expectations. What I’ve learnt etc.
Ms Past: And if it were?
Sam: Well Mr. Future will know as well as I that it didn’t go as expected, in large part because I had no concrete expectations…
Ms Past: Go on.
Sam: I had a lot of different plans, each changing rapidly the moment I got close. Like a sailor drawn to jagged rocks by the sirens of modern day employers.
Ms Past: Although some of those sirens deemed you unworthy for their jagged rocks.
Sam: (with a deep breath) Yes. That’s true. I was turned down from several positions.
Ms Past: And are you a broken man as a result?
Sam: Not broken, but definitely less keen on applying for new jobs. The amount I’ve failed to get, my subconscious is starting to associate the application process itself with failure. It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle.
Ms Past: A small problem and nothing you can’t overcome.
Sam: I know it is.
Ms Past: But knowledge is never enough — just because you know the right choice doesn’t mean you won’t pick the wrong one. You need to know wisely.
Sam: What does it mean to know wisely?
Ms Past: It means knowing not just a reason for your actions, but your reason. People are like oceans Sam. Acts made from the shallows lack conviction and the change they can create is limited. But when you act from the depths you can shift the tide.
Sam: Sounds like I need to go diving.
Ms. Past: That would be a suitable first step.
Sam: And what of the question you wanted to ask me?
Ms. Past: Well you’ve heard these two make their claims of importance, so let me make mine. You are in no small part everything that has come before.
Sam: My experiences, friends, jobs and the like?
Ms. Past: I’d be more specific than that by saying that you are what you have survived. Just as it takes fear to become brave, as it requires the feeling of vulnerability to learn compassion, only by surviving do you learn to live.
Sam: Which brings us to your question.
Ms. Past: Exactly. What have you survived Sam? And — (turning to MR. FUTURE) Sorry for roaming into your field here — what would you like to survive?
Sam: Well let me start by setting out what I consider survival to mean. To survive, for me, is to be placed into a situation — which may in extreme circumstances be a matter of life or death — and through the resources at your disposal, to live through it and be stronger as a result.
Ms. Past: I can see how that definition has affected you in the past.
Sam: Then I’ve survived many experiences abroad; from Sierra Leone and Kenya to Australia, Japan and Grenada, each circumstance bore its own challenge. Each I succeeded in surviving. And even now I am surviving something. This job, this lifestyle; I feel lost in it. But I am surviving.
Ms. Past: The way you describe it, it sounds like you feel more at home abroad and more lost at home.
Sam: That’s probably something I need to address…
Ms. Past: Talk to me of the future.
Sam: I want to break out of my current frame; the desire for a job with status and the belief that this is the answer to my frustrations. It won’t be, I know it. I’ve been seeking competency question experiences rather than wisdom, CV appendixes rather than true passion.
Ms. Past: So you’re looking to live passionately?
Sam: I’m looking to take a risk on myself. I’m looking to change the rules. Changing is in my nature, and whether I’m looking inwards or outwards I see a need for change. I love the words of Jose Arcadio Buendia in 100 Years of Solitude, when he refuses to play checkers because he ‘could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules’. I’m looking to play by my own rules and no-one else’s.
Ms. Past: You sound determined, but where will this lead you?
Sam: As I told Mr. Future, I don’t know, but what I can say is that my decisions in the next years are going to be anchored to my core values. One of those will be the desire to disrupt my life, to sink or swim by my own terms. Better that than riding a ferry with the expectations of the world at the wheel.
Ms. Past: Very well Sam, that concludes my questions and your end of year review.
Sam: See you next year.