Fear the future. Fear it well.
If college taught me anything, it’s that no matter how much I want to prepare for the future, there’s absolutely no guarantee for anything. We go to college with the idea that we’ll come out of it with a comfortable, cushy job, and then we have our dreams crushed when it takes months, and months, and months after graduation to find our first full-time gig.
If college taught me anything, it’s that I should fear the future. And fear it well.
“But Connie, what the hell do you mean by ‘fear the future’? Do you mean I should live off the grid and wear aluminum foil hats?”
By “fearing the future” in a healthy way, it’s not about paranoia and anxiety — far from that. Better yet, we should prepare for the uncertainty of the future because we fear it.
But it’s not that life is a hopeless expanse of darkness and that we’re destined to roam the nothingness with no purpose or direction (I’ve since shelved my existential crisis — at least for now). Instead, it’s more like...there's always the risk that a current will sweep us up at any moment and we might end up on a completely different shore than we expected.
The whole “going with the flow” mindset can sometimes put us in a healthier spot mentally than trying to fight the current and getting drained. We should be ready for the unknown.
Preparing for uncertainty — sounds counterintuitive, right? It's about acknowledging that fear is a normal thing but that it shouldn't hold us back from living our fullest.
Let's call it being bold. We know our limits of comfort, but why not push ourselves beyond that limit to something just outside what we're used to? Being bold means being okay with being uncomfortable. Taking more risks than what might be considered “safe” (but really, is there anything that's 100% safe?).
Let’s call it being adaptable. When something goes in a completely different direction than you expect (literally or figuratively), you -- your mind, your body -- try to compensate for that difference. Of course, that compensation isn’t always going to 100% correct something going off-course, but the idea’s there.
Adaptability is a word that people probably hear often in their jobs. “Be adaptable”, your boss tells you before assigning you your ex-coworker’s responsibilities on top of your current job. “Must be adaptable”, the job requires of applicants.
There’s a reason why adaptability is such a highly coveted skill that is difficult to master. It’s about being able to shift gears from one thing to the next within a snap, and having no hesitation with what’s to come next. With startups, because of the fast-paced nature of things, adaptability is key. Your boss knows your strengths, but they also need to know that you can help out with other projects in a pinch.
Outside of your job, being adaptable can help you cope with the number of shitty things in life that may or may not be thrown your way. Difficult situations don’t phase you, because you’re already thinking about what your next steps are to get to a solution.
I’d like to think I’m pretty adaptable, but it was definitely a skill that I learned over the years, coming into a slow realization that I could handle certain crazy situations if it came down to it.
The biggest setback I faced was probably the 6-month unemployment period that didn't happen all too long ago. For a short while, I felt like I was drowning in the currents, falling helpless to the whim of the water as it brought me to uncharted territory. I tried to fight the currents. I was afraid.
What if I didn’t find a job before unemployment ran out?What if no one wants to hire me at all?
And honestly, it felt like the worst thing in the world. I felt like the worst thing in the world. The first few weeks into my unemployment, I was at my lowest, genuinely crying in frustration when it felt like all hope was lost. I didn't know where I was going, and in that fear of the unknown future, I stubbornly stumbled in my spot, going nowhere fast.
I felt like an idiot, like I wasn’t doing life the right way. At the time, it felt like there was no worse feeling than me waking up at 9 am each morning knowing that my email inbox would have nothing but job application rejections — or worse yet, silence. Looking back at it now, I think I feared the future, but it wasn’t in the way that I needed. If anything, I was more afraid of not being in control of my life, of not knowing exactly where I was going to land next. I was, with seemingly futile efforts, trying to navigate my dingy against the current.
I’m still not exactly sure when it all clicked in my head, but with perseverance, the best support system I could ask for, and a mental resilience I didn’t know I had, one day, I stopped being so meticulously controlling of life and where I was headed. I feared the future, but it was in a way that allowed me to just—Let it happen.
It took me some time to understand and embrace the fact that none of us really know what our futures hold. Sure, we have a general idea of what to expect the next day, but what if the sun doesn't rise tomorrow? This isn't a question about the science behind the planetary system. It's the question of whether we will or won't exist tomorrow, and what that means in the way that we live each day.We can only plan out our lives so far in advance before it starts limiting our potential. Why are we so obsessed with every little detail about how we live life, how we advance through our careers, who we meet along the way?
For some people, maybe that’s what works for them. But for what I feel like are the grand majority of us, we walk down the path of life and end up taking detours. No single divergent path is the right way, but we each take our own route and (hopefully) find ourselves on a road that leads us towards fulfillment and happiness.
If anyone tells you that they've got it all figured out, politely tell them, “good for you”, and focus on your own shit. Find motivation and build aspirations from others, but don't beat yourself up if you're “behind schedule” or not where you envisioned yourself being. You can't change your past but you can always influence the future.
But as you go through life trying to find a path to fulfillment and happiness, remember that the advice anyone gives you (including whatever I write here) should be extrapolated to fit your situation. No one has your exact experiences or knowledge or thoughts, so take care not to downplay your own judgment and intuition when it comes to making the right decision for you. And if/when you make a wrong or bad decision, let yourself wallow but not for long. How well you live life is mostly based on how you react to the ups and downs that will inevitably occur.
So what’s there to be learned from all this? That in the grand scheme of things, no one knows what the fuck they’re doing, even if they say they do. Because the future is one capricious motherfucker that’s as impartial as it gets.
Fear the future, and fear it well so that you can master the shit out of it.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. —Mark Twain
Main image by Chi Hung Wong.