The view from here
"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
Have you ever filled out an application for a job (or scholarship, contest, internship, etc) that took you so long that you considered just packing it in and forgetting the whole thing? “Ah, maybe I’ll just be unemployed for the rest of my life. Seems easier.” Particularly bad are applications for anything even resembling an official or government position. Like, to drive the point home that this is a serious job, your website needs to be at least 75 years old and ask you questions about your life that goes back at least that far.
Well anyway, now that I’ve managed to slide that little rant in there... Yesterday, I filled out such an application and it took me the entire day. There is a bright side to the tedium of filling in years and years of personal history fortunately (and no, it’s not that I think anything will result from it because let’s be honest, we are usually proved that they are in fact, not worth your time investment. Sorry, that’s my last rant. Promise!).
The upside is that being forced to go back through the last 7 years of my life made me stop my angsty existential dread about the “next steps” for five minutes. You may have read my blog about having a new mountain to climb after successfully quitting my job and starting a business. As a quick recap, I was essentially wondering aloud what to do now with this freed up mental space, and as a 30 something woman, thinking I better figure it out and either get a baby in my belly or do something similarly fulfilling. Like ASAP.
So back to me filling out this painful application and having to revisit the exact days I started new jobs, ended old ones and the awkward transitions between them. Well, I realised how far I have come since that first, anxiety-filled day as an excruciatingly green content writer.
Through email exchanges with close friends and family members, I can see my thoughts about how nervous and tied up in knots I was to start that job. And then again 18 months later when I was agonising for weeks about whether taking an opportunity for a new job was the right thing to do, until I finally just made a decision and handed in my notice.
After a while, I realized I hated that place, and jumped ship to a different company, where I negotiated a higher salary for the first time ever. All throughout, I was both shitting myself with fear, feeling like I had no idea what I was doing AND dreaming about how I would one day work for myself.
Today I am working for myself and while I’m still figuring out what that and the rest of the future is going to look like, I’m light years ahead of where I was the day I stepped onto New Zealand soil with less than no money to my name and nary a hot clue about what was coming.
Sure, maybe my anxious planning helped motivate me to get to the next stage and the next stage after that. Or maybe it sucked out some of the joy of whatever phase I was in at the time. Probably a bit of both.
What I’m saying is yes, look to the future and do everything you can to create the one you want. But don’t spend too much time obsessing about it or you’ll completely miss the fun you’re meant to have right now. Some answers are unknowable. And whether you opt to do nothing or make a change, you control how much you enjoy it and how it ultimately turns out.
If I had stayed at that first job or taken a different one, the present may look different now but it really doesn’t matter because I didn’t and here I am.
Look back at your past, but instead of focusing on all the stupid, embarrassing, regrettable things you’ve done (why is this the shit we remember?), think about how far you’ve come. Equally, if you lament about how carefree you once were and wish you appreciated it more - learn from it and be carefree now!
It’s great to contemplate the big picture but it can also cause us to get carried away about what the next steps are going to be - which ironically makes it impossible to make any decisions.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea that we are actually more afraid of the power we do have. Because we know that deep down, we can shape the future and it can look completely different than what we are used to. This feels terrifying. You are in control of your life. But, what I’ve learned is we are so quick to think our success or failure is determined by the major decisions we make. And to an extent they are, but the reality is regardless of what you choose, you are shaping it at every single tiny miniscule step of the way. Everything will be okay because we will make it so!
No, I can’t control the time-suck that is an institution related application from the 1700s but I can appreciate the process for the insight it gives me into the importance of living in the moment. And that is always worth the investment.
So today, if you are struggling to figure out what your “next steps” are, I encourage you to pause for a minute and look back at the last time you were a nervous wreck and cut yourself some slack. We are all getting older day by day so this obsession with living in the future has got to end before there is no more future left. Nobody’s getting out of this thing alive and the present is all we really have. ENJOY IT.
Author - Meghan Advent
Meghan is the co-founder and head editor of Travelher. She is passionate about travel, women's rights and every cat everywhere.