For the last 15 months, the future has been blank. Yes, it's certainly been bleak, but that wasn’t the most worrisome part. We always knew the pandemic would end at some point, the bleakness would end, we just didn’t know when. That was the hardest part. Not knowing. Not knowing when or how to start planning for things in the way that we used to. The future was pretty much the same as the present. Now, as we come out of the pandemic, and the future brings the same variety and unknowingness that it used to, where do we start?
YOUR OWN FUTURE
You wouldn’t be blamed for wanting to plan a post-pandemic vacation. We’ve all done it, at least in our heads. There have even been expectations about the amount of activity that will happen this coming summer now that the world has opened up again. While you should be celebrating and savoring life, you should also be thinking about your career. During the pandemic, a lot of professionals have quit jobs, changed jobs, or simply don’t want to go back to their old jobs. There are a variety of reasons for this (depending on the job), but it only makes sense that a global pandemic might force people to change their perspective on what they want to do, and who they want to be. There has been a reset, and if you fall into this category, you have a pretty good excuse to take some time to find your way. But with a world of opportunity, comes a world of worry. There’s nothing wrong with planning for the future. In fact, there’s a whole lot of good in it, but things can get stressful and frustrating if you create expectations that are too specific.
If you’ve been headed down a straightforward career path for a while, you have a pretty good idea of what may come next. Of course you can’t predict it completely and should be open to surprises, but you could probably make some reasonable guesses about what might happen next. If you’re starting in a whole new direction, like maybe after a global pandemic, you have no idea what your future may hold. When the future is blank like this, we naturally want to fill in those blanks. There is no greater fear than fear of the unknown. So we create expectations in our heads, and because they aren’t based on anything, they can become oddly specific. High expectations aren’t the enemy to happiness like they say, very specific expectations are. They leave no room for the natural fluidity of life. It’s okay to plan, but when you start mapping out the future like it’s your wedding party, then you’re in trouble.
THE GREATER FUTURE
Our own personal futures aren’t the only futures to worry about. In the times we live in, it's easy to see the world’s future as grim, or so volatile that one has no idea what to expect (equally as distressing). Worrying about the greater or larger future can cause stress to really run away from us because we have no control over these things. That’s how you should see it though. You don’t want to totally detach yourself from the world like the Dalai Llama, but it can be helpful to know that the events of the world are out of your control. This brings us back to proper expectation management. Expectations that are too specific will always disappoint you, because our expectations involve other people and events, things that we have no bearing on, and so won’t act in the way we want them to. You need to allow yourself to be open and adaptable. It’s the very foundation of being a freelancer really; being ready for change, bending rather than breaking. When the events of the world overwhelm you, the best thing to do is focus on yourself, and on the present.
We can’t always be thinking about the future; or the past for that matter. Most of the time, really, we should be living in the present. Does this sound like we got it off one of those motivational calendars? Yes, but even a broken clock is right twice a day because presence, as in being in the present, is truly of utmost importance. Not only as a way to reduce stress and enjoy life, but to be the most effective at the things you do. Planning, however stressful, is really the easier part. If it comes to pass that the stuff you’ve been expecting really does come true (maybe you land your dream job), now you have to follow through and do it. It’s more often the case that when the future comes, it’s far less daunting than we thought it would be, and so we begin thinking about the next most stressful thing and less on the here and now. Don’t let all that planning and worrying go to waste. When the thing you’ve been planning for comes, be sure to deliver. The best way to make sure of this: stop planning. Not all together of course, but most of the time, the present is more pressing, so put your attention there. Doing so will actually prepare you for the future, because when the future comes, you will face it the same way you face today. The better you are at being and having presence, the better prepared you will be for the day the future arrives.
Try not to be so distracted by the problems of the future that you miss the opportunities of the present. Put that on a bumper sticker.