"When my ship finally comes in...I’ll most likely be waiting at the airport"
~ Bernice Walsh
As noted before, one of my all-time favorite books is Viktor Frankl’s "Man’s Search for Meaning" published 1959, which chronicles Frankl’s Nazi Holocaust experiences.
Frankl was a Jewish physician and psychiatrist before WWII. After the Nazi’s seized control of Germany and most of Europe, Frankl and his family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where, despite all of the atrocities committed against him by his captors, he somehow managed to survive.
After he was released in April of 1945, he chronicled many of the observations and experiences that he had while incarcerated. His detailed accounts of the events that took place are both horrific and mind-numbing.
One of his observations was most interesting to me as I read his book. He noted that one of the lowest inmate survival rates came from those men he called the "optimists"... those men who lived their lives in the hopes of a better future rather than dealing specifically with the present conditions as they were.
The reason for their demise, he suspected, was due to their disappointment of things not turning out exactly like they had hoped... in the time frame that they had hoped. When things went from bad to worse... the optimists just threw in the towel and quit.
Instead of being the blade of grass bending in the wind... they stood firmly planted like a tree and when the strong wind turned into a hurricane, they were easily uprooted and destroyed.
I am not writing this to advocate yielding to an aggressor or telling you that putting up a valiant fight isn’t warranted or justified in certain situations... because this is not the point I’m trying to make.
My intention today is instead to write about the pitfalls of living in the future rather than dealing with the present.
My contemporaries and I are now at the age when we mostly talk about 3 things... our kids... our health... and our plans for retirement.
It is the latter of the 3 that I find most interesting...
A small majority of my friends seem to be waiting for some enchanted moment in time when all of their cares and worries will be somehow alleviated. They collectively call that magical day "retirement" (or some other label) .
A typical statement from them starts off with the same basic premise, "my life will be so much better when I finally retire because... "
That "because" can be represented with several multiple-choice answers:
- I can play golf (or another hobby) every day
- I will no longer have to work
- I can finally spend time with my spouse / children / grand kids
- I can find some time to do the charity work I’ve always wanted to do
- I’ll have the time to travel and see the world
- I’ll have the opportunity to go back to school
Essentially this type of thinking involves imagining how much better life will be when certain conditions are met at some specific future point in time.
This manner of thinking is not limited to retirement... although this is what I’ve been hearing from many of my acquaintances mostly due to our ages... but it can also reflect the thinking of anyone at any age.
I’m certain we’ve all heard someone lamenting... "My life will be so much better when I... "
- Meet and/or marry the right person
- Move to a new place
- Find a better job
- Finally get that raise
- Have kids
- Win the lottery
- Fully fund my 401K
These people are seemingly postponing their happiness until an undetermined point of time in the future instead of living a fulfilling, effective and joyful life in the present.
This is not to say that we can’t set future goals that stretch us to become better and achieve more. However, it’s just as important that we try to live in the present, enjoying some of the fruits of yesterday’s labor instead of constantly doubling down while waiting for tomorrow.
We sacrifice the actual moments of life in exchange for moments that exist only in our imaginations. That imagined future may or may not ever arrive... or be significantly changed once the future finally arrives.
The cousin of "hoping for great things to come"... is spending time and energy worrying about future events that are beyond your control.
- What if my kids don’t get into the best college?
- What happens if my boss doesn’t like my proposal or gives me a bad review?
- How will my travel plans be affected if that storm arrives?
- What will happen if the stock / real estate / bond market crashes?
- What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if I don’t try?
- What if I’m diagnosed with cancer?
Worrying about imagined calamities creates undue stress... and stress prevents us from living a happy life (as well as causing a variety of real and unimagined health issues).
Once again... I’m not advocating always throwing caution to the wind... that would simply be foolish.
While I never expect to crash on my bicycle... I still wear a helmet each and every time I ride just in case I do...
Living life in the present is vitally important for our health and well-being.
If we are unhappy where we are today... then most likely... we’ll be unhappy tomorrow as well...
The key to living is trying to find a way to be happy today... we are the only ones who can control our own happiness...
People and/or events can cause us great suffering and pain... but they cannot control what we feel or our ability to be happy... that is our own choice and it is found deep inside of us... this is our last great freedom that no one has the power to take from us...
We need to remember that today is the most important day of our lives... not tomorrow or the day after that.
Our future is now...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we attempt to assist with the present rather than worrying about the uncontrollable future...
Jim Kalb President
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