Is What You’re Doing Right Now Making You Happy?
Stop worrying so much about tomorrow
I’ve been hitting it pretty hard on the writing recently. A couple of months ago I set myself the target of writing every day, and so far, so good. It’s been hard, there have been sacrifices, but that’s what it takes to be successful. Right? Right??
Lately, I’ve been wondering about that. My focus on writing means that for the past two months I’ve had the constant feeling of a deadline hanging over my head. I wake up with it, I feel a tiny surge of relief when I hit ‘publish’, and then it’s right back there the following morning. I’ve missed out on spending time with friends. I’ve passed on dates. I’ve allowed nothing to stand in the way of my steely determination to get those words in. And so far it’s been for nothing.
That’s unavoidable I guess. It takes time to build an audience and find a voice and get your break. I know that. But I’m trying to figure out at what point whatever the hell I’m hoping to achieve is outweighed by the stress and the neglected friendships and lack of sex. I’m not there yet, but I will be one day. So let’s think this through.
Let’s imagine that I achieve all the success I could dream of. Let’s imagine that I become the J. K. Rowling of whatever it is I write about. Do my dreams really include having this feeling for the rest of my life? Or am I writing like a demon right now so I can get to the point where I don’t have to write anymore? Isn’t the writing supposed to be the point? Why am I putting myself through this every day just so I can reach a point where I can stop?
I think a lot of people are in this situation. Maybe you are. And I think it’s worth just pausing for a second and making sure we haven’t all lost our goddamn minds.
I mean, most of what you’ll do today will be designed to prevent problems tomorrow. You’ll work so that tomorrow you’ll still have a roof over your head. You’ll choose your words carefully when you talk to your boss or your partner so that tomorrow you’ll still have a job and a relationship. You’ll pay your bills so that you still have electricity and running water in your house. The ability to keep an eye on tomorrow is an essential life skill.
But life isn’t happening tomorrow. The opportunities you pass up today will be gone tomorrow. The moments you miss with friends and family will be in the past tomorrow. The time you sacrifice today for the sake of tomorrow can’t be made up later on.
Maybe you’re fine with that. If you want to get anything done in life, transactions like these are unavoidable. Time, as limitless as it is, is finite for you. So sometimes you’re going to have to choose a path because of where it leads, not because you’re enjoying the walk. The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s important to think about how long the path is and how unpleasant it is and how far it will take you from the things that are important to you now. And it’s easy to lose track of that.
I’m not talking in the abstract here. Take your job for example. Why are you walking this particular path? Was it the path you wanted to be on 10 years ago? How many people and opportunities did you sacrifice for it? Most importantly; if you could go back and be faced with the choice to step onto it again, would you do it?
These questions apply to all of the things you’re doing with your life. Are you doing them for the sake of tomorrow? Or are you doing them for today? Are you actively choosing this path each day or are you just being propelled along it by your own inertia? Is the only reason you don’t stop now you’re worried about what would happen tomorrow if you did?
I’m not going to tell you to stop if the answer is yes of course. That would be a terrible idea. Choices have inertia, trying to change course too suddenly is like trying to take a turn at 100mph. You need some mirror-signal-manoeuvre action. A little finesse. But don’t let the fact that you’re going too fast right now make you feel like it’s never going to be possible to take a turn.
Think about it like planning for the day after tomorrow. It’s true that if you stop what you’re doing right now, that will lead to problems. Don’t do that. But how about you do something today that makes tomorrow’s worries less pressing. To continue our analogy, what can you do to start slowing your car down? What do you want your life to look like, and how do you steer from here to there? How about you do something which will earn you a little bit of money the day after tomorrow? Or that will open up a new path the day after tomorrow. Or will make you a little bit smarter the day after tomorrow.
How about you focus a little more on the kind of life you want to lead rather than the kind of life you feel like you have to lead. And I mean in every regard. Even if you’re working your ass off right now, ask yourself; when will this end? Is this the life I want to lead? Is this all for a tomorrow that I won’t want to be in once I’m there?