The future is always one step ahead of us. No matter how much we have planned or prepared; no matter what we or others expect, the future has a way of completely confounding us. The future in this context can seem to be very overpowering or overwhelming with its ability to keep us in check or keep us guessing.
Our future is a fairly abstract concept which emerges out of our understanding of time. It represents what we can’t see or know for sure despite our many plans. Yet; the idea of preparing for our future is our own way of being involved with the unknown. Planning tomorrow as it were, is therefore to be commended. It suggests foresight and strengthens the idea that we can have some control over what we can’t know for sure. On our part, planning for our future suggests diligence, wisdom and organization. While these traits are all great, life teaches, however, that they are usually not enough.
How then do we lay hold of or maximize an often elusive but preferred future? The truth is, we may have to learn to redefine how we perceive the idea of “future”. Of course we sometimes successfully plan our education, career, life partner, financial investments, holidays and the like. We also feel very good when our lives roll out as we imagined within a particular time-frame. The problem is that these incremental successes can lull us into a false sense of security. They can trick us into believing too deeply in our own infallibility and accuracy. And of course we sometimes make prudent choices because of our education or previous life experiences. This, however, is no guarantee that our lives will always line up as planned.
Several years ago I penned the following lines to a poem after receiving some devastating news which altered both my present and my future.
“I knew who I was this morning
Now I’m not so sure
Life happened somewhere between the sevens
And now I am unfurled” (From “Life Happened” by Denise J Charles)
These words seek to communicate the idea that our lives can change in one split second; no matter what we have planned. A child’s defiance, a spouse’s betrayal, a bad diagnosis, a job cut, a broken relationship, an accident or any unexpected occurrence can happen anywhere “between the sevens” ; an image for the unpredictability of time. Yes, between seven in the morning and seven at night, there can be unpredictable shifts which have the potential to rock our existence.
Finding our future in these spaces; even when “life happens”, is critical for the recovering of our peace of mind. The following key principles may help us to decipher our own blessings from the mess we sometimes encounter:
1. Accept that we don’t know everything: While planning is good, we must accept that in life, there are no absolutes or guarantees. We can’t predict every eventuality and must accept that surprises will happen.
2. Accept that the future is dynamic: While we may plan a “preferred future”, life will deliver curve balls and detours on the road as we journey. This does not signal the end; it simply means that we must take the time to discover a new path. Very often, we can realize that this new path may even be better than the one left behind.
3. Seek to embrace transition: Because we can’t predict every eventuality we must balance having a stranglehold of control on our lives, with accepting the eventual shifts that do come. It is at the point of change that we encounter transition; this speaks to our adaptation to the unexpected change. Embracing transition allows us to find peace in the knowledge that life is not a fixed state but a haphazard journey.
4. Decide to re-frame experience: Our perspective on our experiences can immobilize or galvanize us. While fear of the future can drive us into inactivity or even depression, redefining painful experiences as powerful life-lessons, allows us to appreciate their value. This creates a context for our personal growth and strengthens our ability to help others. Ultimately, our future should not be perceived as a fixed utopia where we can only be happy if life is perfect. Rather, we must view our future as a continuum from which empowerment can emerge, even amidst the uncertainties of life.