Past, Present or Future?

Maybe you never thought about it – but ask yourself, are you operating in fear of repeating the past, winging it moment to moment, or planning for the future?

Normally, I would spend some time at the beginning of this article to give examples and lead gently up to my point. This time I’m going to cut straight to the bottom line.

The only way you’ll ever succeed in doing anything is to work for and in the future.

You may think that’s an oversimplification. It’s not.

The wise elders of the world tell you to reflect on the past and glean wisdom from it. It’s very serious. “You must learn from your mistakes,” they say. “Be careful,” you hear over and again. It’s all well and good to understand the risks and pitfalls of the activity you’re engaged in, but focusing only on the past leads to stagnation. If you once got burned by a hot pan on the stove, it’s smart to remember not to touch it again, but that should be about the extent of it. If you get stuck on yesterday, your fixed attention will slow you down to a point of no activity. That’s the fast track to joining the washed-up has-beens with no future in sight. No thanks.

What about the present? This is the far more logical and common preoccupation, and therefore the most deadly. I constantly see people make decisions in life that are based only in the present, and frankly it’s dumb. I’m sorry I don’t have a better, more refined word for it, but it’s true.

The unfaithful spouse is operating only in a present that may hold some fleeting enjoyment, but creates a future full of misery and pain. The shady salesperson sells anything to anyone on any promise, the devil take the consequences. The collegiate party-animal lives high and yolo-ing “in the moment” until their subpar grades bring them crashing down. These are extreme examples, but serve to illustrate the point.

If the above are the shining lights of “now” irresponsibility, what about something a little closer to home, a little more insidious? Clocking off for work early so as to not miss happy hour. Not sending the proposal because Monday night football is starting soon. Putting up a website that’s “good enough” because you’d rather binge on Netflix than put more work into it, and so on, and on. Every such decision is made in “now” to the detriment of tomorrow. This is where most people live and operate, and there is a universe of mediocrity awaiting for anyone who cares to join them. Again, no thank you.

The only place to operate is in the future. Doing the activities you are passionate about, with an eye on tomorrow and how you can improve the future. This is thinking in the future.

To cover earlier bases, you might stay at work and earn your full paycheck, or get the proposal out and thus close your sale earlier, even though you miss the first quarter of the game. You’d certainly make sure your website looked beautiful (with a great video from Richter, front and center!). In each case, you would lean in because you know each action would create a better, more successful tomorrow.

You get the point. There are no absolutes and no one is a machine who can work non-stop forever. BUT, stop worrying about the past or meandering in the present and get to work building a better future. Think ahead as far as you can and create something you can be proud of, and the rest will take care of itself.