Stop Living in the Future
I’m a scattered person. I blame my kids, but, in reality, it’s just who I am. Lists and planners keep me on track and make me more productive. (At least, they make me feel more productive.) I’m a visual person. I need a roadmap to see where I’ve come from and where I’m headed.
I’ve always had a penchant for list-making, but my planning compulsion has really come about in the last few years. As a mom of two, juggling college classes, a job and internships, planning was a necessity. Keeping track of work and school schedules, babysitters, and assignments will make your head spin. I’m certain my organizer saved me from several emotional breakdowns.
I’m methodical in my approach because, up until now, it’s worked for me. I tackle each goal and relish in my success. It’s how I managed to buy a house, save money to travel, graduate from college and keep my sanity in the process. I like to stay busy; I thrive on chaos. The more on my plate, the better I feel. Free time actually makes me anxious.
Like many people, I have a constant to-do list. There are bills to pay, errands to run, doctor’s appointments, work assignments, parent teacher meetings—it’s never-ending. And I love it. Well, most days. To stay organized, I employ a host of different tools: paper planners and a wall calendar, Google memos and Wunderlist. (And let’s not forget reminders scribbled on scrap paper in my purse. If you’ve never written a note to yourself on a foil gum wrapper, are you even a mom?)
Eight months ago, I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma. Years of hard work had paid off and one of my biggest goals had been reached. I had graduated! I felt relief and pride. I was on top of the world and ready to tackle the next step. Since that moment, though, I’ve felt stuck. I trudge through my mornings—make lunches, drop the kids off to school, send out resumes, reply to emails and head to work. Eat, sleep, repeat. Yawn. I try to remind myself it takes time to find a career, that I’m working towards new goals and that it’s all OK. But it doesn’t always feel OK. I’m struggling to figure out the next move. “Now what?” echoes in my head. I usually find a weird sense of pleasure from crossing items off my lists. But, lately, it feels monotonous.
I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I’m simply treading water, marking the time as it passes. I’m starting to understand part of my problem is that I focus on the future instead of living in the moment. By constantly thinking of the next goal, the next challenge, I’m failing to enjoy the life I have.
The problem isn’t having a five-year plan; it’s that most of my energy was preoccupied with it. I’ve achieved something I’ve worked so long for, but now I feel disoriented. I don’t mind the busy schedule, as long as it feels like I’m working toward an end goal. I am creating new objectives, but in the meantime, the endless cycle of chores and errands are boring me.
Future goals are essential. I still believe that (I’m looking at you, master’s degree). But I need to enjoy the present moment and appreciate it. Happiness doesn’t just come from the big accomplishments; you have to find it in your everyday life. If you’re always waiting for the weekend, for the next accomplishment or a new adventure, you lose sight of what you do have.
Buddhists and spiritualists may call this mindfulness. I prefer the quote from Roald Dahl:
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
There is magic in our normal, everyday lives. For me, it’s my son giggling at his own corny jokes and my daughter reading her favorite book out loud to me. Sometimes, it’s the sound of the rain; other times it’s a deep discussion with my best friend. I try to remind my kids to be thankful for what they have. Now, I’m trying to take my own advice. It’s not a bad thing to have goals or stay organized. I won’t be handing over my planner anytime soon. But if you’re constantly planning the future, you risk missing what’s right in front of you.
Life is not a list of tasks to check off. It’s a series of ordinary days, punctuated with big milestones. It is messy, stressful, scary and, at times, incredibly beautiful. If you’re always looking to the future, you forget the beauty that exists within those familiar routines. Good or bad, tragic or comedic, what matters is being present.
Heather lives in Jacksonville, FL, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off, you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.