Why focus on what’s next for you?

Photo courtesy of Tiny Buddha | Distribution Manager Max Bruns says we should focus on the now, not the later.

Just having come back from Thanksgiving, I’m assuming that many of my readers are now recalling the countless moments where they had to answer the question, “What comes next?” in any of its various forms. “Where are you going after college?” “What’re your plans this summer?”

If this describes your situation, I have an answer for you that I think you’ll value. But before I give it to you, let me talk a little bit about the questions themselves.
These questions are, unfortunately, commonplace interrogation tactics with which any college youth is familiar. I won’t wax poetic eloquence about their cliché nature or redundant place in the setting of the family party, except to say that I can’t come up with a question of this nature that hasn’t been asked of someone “about to start their life.”

What I can say about them is that in my opinion, they are a total misdirection. When relatives or loved ones ask “what’s next?” either by asking you about jobs or a love life or grad school, what they really are not asking is about what’s happening now.

I’m not suggesting that you drone on and on about the last BIO 160 lab you completed or the Shakespeare paper you wrote. Just take a second and think about the last two days of your life. Think about how much time you’ve spent doing something for you. Not finishing an application or filling out a resume, not studying for an exam or writing a cover letter. No, time you’ve spent doing something to help you, now.

The fact of the matter is, despite the amount of time I’ve spent writing about “living in the moment,” one point that I have not spent enough time talking about is the present moment in terms of you. It’s great to think about the present moment in terms of appreciating your life. Reflecting on how many gifts you’ve been given or how many friends you have is good, but it’s extremely important to think about the present moment in terms of you.

Ask yourself, “How am I doing today?” “How am I enjoying my free time?” “How am I assessing my mental health?” These things are integral to who you are as a person, and dedicating time to developing full and complete answers to those questions will eventually allow you to think about the future.

For example, if your new friendship with a bad influence is detracting from the amount of time you have to study for the GRE, you may only attribute stress to the GRE and not to the new friend. Thus, when Relative Number 1 asks “What are you up to?” you will only respond, “Stressing about the GRE.” There will be no mention of the toxic friend who forces you to stay up until 1 in the morning watching reruns of Melrose Place and indulging in the sweet nectar of Pabst Blue Ribbon as if you were a champion couch potato training for the Olympics, which makes for a much more interesting story anyway.

The fact is, much of your day-to-day activities will go unmentioned. And yet your day-to-day is what you live…day to day! The thoughts and experiences of yesterday are the ones freshest in your mind when you wake up today, and the thoughts and experiences of today will be there in the morning tomorrow.

Time will continue to be what is most important until you find a way to live simultaneously in the present and two years in the future, when you finally have that dream job or apartment. What you need to focus on is finding a way to make the present moment as happy and healthy and interesting as it can be, because that’s what you’ve got for now, and that’s inevitably what you have to talk about. The past and future talk is all just speculation.

In the grand scheme of things, your life isn’t going to be a collection of plans you fulfilled. It isn’t going to be a number of goals you accomplished or a list of tasks you completed. It’s going to consist of memories of days, times and events that were for some reason significant enough to stand out from all the other moments you’ve lived. Fill your day with as many of these as you can and you’ll have a life well lived.

So now, for my grand answer. The next time someone close to you asks “What’s up next for you, what career are you looking for, when are you graduating?” just say, “Oh…I’m done.” My favorite comedian Maria Bamford came up with this ingenious answer, and I think the fundamental truth behind it is worth advertising. Saying “I’m done” really means “I’m focusing on myself right now, not myself in the future.” Your relative or loved one will be taken aback, and hopefully they’ll get the message. This is now. Focus on it.

Max Bruns is a senior HAB and English double major and the Distribution Manager for the Newswire from Cincinnati.