The future. A word that can bring about vast amounts of excitement, or create crippling waves of fear and discomfort for many individuals. Since we, unfortunately, do not have accurate methods for predicting what the future will bring, the emotions we tie to the word itself have much to do with our current situation, and the way we view our next couple of months. Although it can be very easy to fall into the trap of fear when thinking ahead, it’s important to maintain optimism. Fearing the future is natural, but such emotions can and should evoke feelings of appreciation and thankfulness in the current moment.
As of right now, I am about a year and a half away from graduating from Swarthmore. I have many friends who are only six months away from graduating. And I have even more that graduated six months ago. And for many of us, the future is uncertain. For a long time that would create an abyss in my gut and a bit of lightheadedness, because such uncertainty had never been known to me. And from the snatches of conversations around Swat’s campus, I’ve gathered there are similar views and opinions to mine in a good amount of the student population. But that fear, that irrational fear that builds up right before you have to jump into the unknown, can be difficult to manage. Sometimes, it can be so crippling that it prevents you from jumping, leaving you suspended between where you are and where you hope to be in the future. And that is the ultimate problem with a well-developed fear of the future; it stops you from achieving your full potential.
Often times, we see fear pictured as a motivator. It’s seen as something that pushes you to be better because you fear whatever would happen if you don’t. Unfortunately, this fear tends to be more a fear of failure, which is instilled in many of us at a young age. We study and work hard and undersleep in order to achieve greatness because we fear a future in which we have underachieved and not reached our full potential. But for many years, that fear works. It works because there is a well-defined path that society expects from us: elementary school, middle school, high school, and then off to college. And those of us who are fortunate enough to make it through this path can feel some of those fears cease: we have done what was expected. The problem that arises afterward is that the motivation we had been relying on is now no longer serving to push us, but rather to scare us. Fear no longer works because the well defined path is done and we’ve reached the edge of the cliff, and we need to find something in ourselves that convinces us to take a leap of faith. It is at this point that we must find a new motivator, or transform an old one so that the future is no longer a banned topic of discussion.
Not knowing what is to come in our lives can be boiled down to having to get acquainted with the unknown. After all, oftentimes what we fear when we look to the future is the unknown. This is similar to when we are young and have a fear of the darkness, because we do not know what dwells within it. Not knowing what’s next and what may happen to our person can be a very scary thought and not one that rests with us easily.
Fearing the unknown can sometimes lead to negative assumptions, such as that failure is inevitably the end product of our journey. However, it does not have to be that way — perhaps the unknown can inspire positive thoughts about where we may end up rather than pessimism. Not knowing what may happen increases the importance and uniqueness of each and every moment we experience. It can serve as a reminder that each person and event we encounter in our journey may not remain with us for the long term, slowly turning into strangers as we dive into the unknown. This reminder, however scary, is important for us to carry in our hearts because with that knowledge we no longer let people and moments pass us without our full appreciation being expressed.
It is perfectly normal to like routine and for life to be comfortable, and to want to know what will come next. After all, a steady state of life is often one in which we thrive in the most. However, living with a fear of what might come next may also be immensely helpful in helping us appreciate the current moment and understand our day to day blessings, no matter how small. The people we love and the places we’ll never forget have no guarantee of remaining the way they are in the coming weeks, months, or years. And yet that is what makes them all so important to not only treasure but appreciate right now, because the future is uncertain. It’s a blank slate that’s being painted with each action we commit, day in and day out. And the end result can never be guessed.