“Can it be Thursday already?” “Can it be July 2nd?” “Can it be 72 days from now?” These are the usual questions of my daughter, always asked rhetorically and with a gleam in her eye, beginning a familiar dance.
I then dutifully play my role and say, “Why? What’s happening on Thursday (or July 2nd or 72 days from now—you get it)?”
That is her ticket to spill out her joy in anticipation of the future event she has been fantasizing about. “Thursday is our field trip for camp!” (“July 2nd is when we leave for Pelican Lake and get to see our cousins!” and “School is starting again in 72 days, and I CAN’T WAIT!!!”). She is bubbling over with excitement, unable to contain it in her little body.
And though I love to see her so excited, the Zen father in me views this as a teachable moment, an opportunity to impart some life wisdom. “How about we just focus on THIS moment? If we keep doing that, Thursday (or July 2nd, or 72 days from now) will show up soon enough, and you will be happier along the way. Just enjoy today.”
But her will is stronger than mine: “But I want it to be Thursday NOW!” she says with her gleam even gleamier, knowing it is all just a game but loving to play it and get her old man going.
This is the norm for her. She always has something thrilling in her mind that she is looking forward to, some wonderful event at which she can hardly wait to arrive.
Even though I give her a gentle chiding for always looking ahead—one of my favorite personal mantras is “Present moment, Wonderful moment”—I admit that there is a part of me that is jealous of her future-oriented thinking. It seems fun! She is completely tickled by thoughts of these upcoming events. They give her something to mark her days by.
Thinking about that little twinge of jealousy, I have to ask myself, “Do I have anything that I am looking forward to??? Is there a date on my calendar that I cannot wait to arrive?” The answer to that is a tough pill to swallow.
It is true that I am, like my daughter, excited for July 2nd, when we will go to the lake for a week with my parents, siblings, and all of the kids. While it is not an exotic locale or a totally unique experience, it is a break from the normal routine and a chance to reconnect with my beloved family. That, to me, is worth looking forward to. But what else? There is not anything else I can think of in the next six months. No special challenge or date or event or getaway. Just Life. Ordinary Life.
I remember a few years ago talking with a buddy about a big trip he had just booked that was a few months away. He was a really hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy who never splurged on anything and never did anything interesting. I’ll never forget his combination of relief and excitement as he said to me, “It’s just so nice to have something to look forward to!” I get that now.
I see it with my wife, too, who signs herself up for long, difficult running and obstacle races so that she will have a reason to train. If there is nothing to train for, she doesn’t bother. But with something to look forward to, the motivation is automatic. Her Future seems to improve the quality of her Present.
I am not really sure if I am wired that way, though. Like my friend, I agree that it is fun to have something to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel when I am having a challenging week. But really, my life is not a terrible grind I am just trying to slog my way through. I am happy. On the whole, I am quite grateful for the way I get to spend my days. So maybe I don’t have as big of a need for that “Save the Date” event to look forward to. Maybe. And unlike my wife, I don’t need any extra motivation to try to stay fit. Perhaps signing up for a race would sharpen my focus, but I am pretty content to do my own thing and just make fitness a part of my simple lifestyle. It is not exciting, but I am okay with that. I enjoy my Present tense.
Maybe the thing that bothers me about my world compared to my daughter’s is that the ways in which we utilize the Future are completely opposite. The days she can’t stop thinking about are all positive: celebrations, trips, unique adventures, first times, and favorites. The days I obsess over are DEADLINES. Get this bill paid by this date OR ELSE! Get that blog post written by that date OR ELSE! Get these orders submitted by X date OR ELSE! In that sense, we are both future-oriented, but her future dates are all roses and mine are more like Doomsday scenarios.
My future dates on the calendar have become points of stress, ordeals to survive, not delights to look forward to. Instead of wishing Time would hurry up, I am begging for it to slow down so I can get it all in on-time.
No wonder I try to convince myself to stay in the moment!
What to do? I feel like this news is telling me to get more special dates on the calendar: parties or concerts or competitions or trips. From past experience, I know that having those types of things to look forward to is fun and makes the rough days a little smoother, knowing the light is out there. However, I also believe that we all have a different degree of need for those schedule highlights. For me, even though I don’t have many, I don’t mind.
I think it is because I truly enjoy my normal day. Included in every day of my week are things that I am passionate about and feel called to do (like writing these words to you). Even though I miss some old friends and could always use more family gatherings, I really like the people I spend my time with (my wife and kids). Basically, even though it doesn’t look very interesting or exciting to anyone else, I love my life. And even though I admit that I would enjoy adding a few splashy events to my year to add some spice to my daydreams, I seem to get along just fine without them. Because the thing is: I’m looking forward to today. That feels like enough for me.
How about you? What special days are you looking forward to? Open up your journal and write about the stuff of your daydreams. Which upcoming events do you fantasize about? Is your biggest one a trip? A party? A physical challenge, like a marathon? An “event,” like a concert or a sports competition? A family or school reunion? What is it about that day or event that really makes you look forward to it? Why is it so much better than an ordinary day like today? How good are your ordinary days? Do you think the degree to which you (or anyone) is a “look ahead” kind of person is mostly dictated by how much they enjoy their normal days, or is it more about how great the things are that they have to look forward to? Or is it, perhaps, more about your established mindset—like my work to be an in-the-moment Zen Daddy and my “Present moment, Wonderful moment” mantra—rather than anything about the quality of your regular life or the greatness of your calendar highlights? I don’t know that there is one answer that covers everybody, but what combination of those factors explains it for you? Is it a healthy thing to be so much looking forward to future days? Is there a point that it tips from being a healthy thing—with upcoming highlights providing some necessary excitement, optimism, and hope to a person’s life—to an unhealthy thing, where a person gets so lost in the future that she forgets to fully enjoy the present moment, to “smell the roses,” so to speak? Where are you on the spectrum? What percentage of your thoughts are about future? Do you use them to focus on good things—the trips and parties and such—or do you slip mostly into future stressors, such as deadlines or bills to pay? Would you say that it’s healthy to look forward, but only to the good stuff, the stuff that doesn’t cause you stress? What is the biggest, most exciting thing you have coming up that is deserving of your daydreams? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you have to look forward to?
Enjoy all the moments,
P.S. If today’s letter got you wondering a different way, please pass it on. Encouraging each other to think more broadly about our thinking can only be good. Spread good!