March 20, 2018

Will All This Matter a Few Years From Now?


I can't believe the New Year is almost three months old. It seems like just a few weeks ago the stress and uncertainty of 2017 had been boxed up and safely put in my attic (if only). Receipts were bundled and stored away, this year's budget is holding up (so far).

It is a human tendency to want to have a clean break, a new beginning, a way to look ahead instead of behind. January 1st serves that purpose for many. Since we cannot do anything about our past except learn from it, focusing on today and what may lie ahead is the only logical choice.


But, too quickly, it seems we are back into our normal routine. I spend time worrying about mistakes I have made, opportunities I have missed, or people I have hurt or neglected. I read the news and am constantly irritated. I fret over Betty's health though she has been managing everything well for the last 40 years.


At times, don't we wish there was a way to revise our history, to fix something we broke? Wouldn't it be great if we could store all of the negative parts of our past as easily as we box up old papers and tax forms?


Maybe the answer is to take to heart in the question posed by the title of this post: Will all of this matter a few years from now? If the past is, well, past, how do we leave it there? How do we chalk up the past months and years to just part of our life journey and not make it more powerful than it need be? 


This seems especially important during retirement. We should be focusing on what we can affect, right now. Wasting time and energy on what is in our rear view mirror is counterproductive. 90% of our worry about the future won't happen. For that remaining 10% there isn't much we can do about it now anyway except make plans and realize they'll probably need revision.


I found an article on Huffpost from several years ago that is an excellent summary of my point. The author, Shelby Doherty, wrote the following:


"Someday in the future we are all going to end up exactly where we are supposed to be. So why stress about how we get there?"
"Think about how far you have come and everything that you are so fortunate to have, you will realize that no matter how far away your hopes and dreams may seem, where you’re at right now is the perfect place to begin."

I know this is hard. As humans, we believe our lives are a fragile mix of fate, divine intervention, or the flip of a coin, so all our actions have consequences, all our thoughts are worth having. We attempt to enforce our will on a universe that has bigger things to accomplish.

The reality is quite elemental: the only thing we can definitely affect is right where we are with our attitude, focus, and choices we make in this moment. Yes, we should apologize to those we hurt in the past and learn from our bad choices. Yes, we should plan for the future and do what we think is best to prepare.

But, the only thing that we absolutely affect is the now. Excessive worry about what lies in the future is wasted energy. Will it all matter a few years from now?


We don't know.





15 comments:

  1. I could have written this article. I have had a charmed life. I have not led a charmed life. I have had every blessing a man could receive. Great education. Great career. Great wife. Super children and grandchildren. I have had all the toys ( cars, boats etc). Yet at 76 I still fret over past injustices real and imagined I may have put on others.

    Went to my 50th HS reunion in 2010. Had 3 days of love, laughter and friends. Now 8 years later I get emails from other class members that so and so has passed away. I wish I had a chance to hold their hand or talk with them or apologize to them for any past grief caused by me, again real or imagined.

    I guess it will always be thus.

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    1. Yes, Jack, We will always have regrets and a desire to fix a past wrong. As long as we don't allow the past to dominate our life, that is just the way it is. We accept that we are flawed humans and do the best we can.

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  2. This is not directly related to retirement but is related to your post topic. When I was teaching in law school, the first year students always had a rough time when their first grades came back. These were all students who were at the top of their undergraduate classes, so many of them had never had the experience of mediocre grades, much less low ones. This is what I told them:

    In twenty years, if the best thing you can say about your life is that you got good grades in law school, then that's pathetic. If the worst thing you can say about your life is that you got bad grades in law school, then you will be blessed.

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    1. Excellent. That puts the whole discussion in perspective.

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    2. I agree with you 100% Galen. When my daughter was in university she just about worked herself to death so she would graduate on the Dean's List. Her memories of her undergraduate days are all about work work work and very little fun. I kept trying to tell her that by being a little less focused on making the Dean's List her life would be less of pressure cooker and the slight difference in her marks will not make one bit of difference post university (but what do father's know). Ten years on she agrees with me now that the only difference that being on the Dean's List has made is that her framed undergraduate degree is edged in gold rather than green.

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  3. Bob, this is another way to recommend mindfulness as the best way to get the most out of life. In truth, we live our lives exclusively in the present moment, even though most of us fill our heads with memories, dreams, and worries, all of which crowd out what's right in front of us: people, nature, sensory input, etc. Too much thinking and not enough paying attention!

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    1. I have read a few books recently about mindfulness, so maybe that was the genesis of this post. I am getting better about leaving the past alone. Except for the fun and fond memories I leave the past behind me and don't dwell as much as I once did with "what if" scenarios.

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  4. Yes, seems the human condition is to spent at least some time with regrets and worries, the trick is making sure we quickly move on from those moments,right? I worry off and on about whether our money will last as long as we do, then I worry I am not spending MORE of our money on trips and adventures while I am still young enough and physically able to get around. Oy Vay!! One thing that has helped me, is reminding myself that -- ACTUALLY --some of the things I worried about HAPPENED! And lo and behold, we had the courage, the experience, and the resilience to adjust, to refocus, to make a change and recoup. Our move to the North was certainly something I worried about -- what if what if what if.. and then, it DIDN'T work out.In retrospect, I am proud of how we did not settle -- we talked it out, made the change to come back home. WE DID get to experience a very interesting year and a half as mountain people, and I suppose that's good for the Soul . When Ken started chiro school we picked the best one ,we thought. Moved from jersey to Texas. BUT. .it was not the best situation, and we were not happy. SO we somehow found the resources to pull up stakes and move from Texas to Iowa where he started over. SO my take away is.. we have so much more wisdom and fortitude and spiritual guidance in all matters than we realize.. living in the moment, planning best we can, and going with the flow, is about the only sane way to live!! Easier said than done, but we can at least strive for that balance . Luckily, lately I feel in a nice balanced space.. I count my blessings when that happens!

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    1. I want to repeat one of your sentences: "we have so much more wisdom and fortitude and spiritual guidance in all matters than we realize." Life has, and will continue to, throw us curve balls. We will swing and miss. But, we will also connect for a long ball over the fence. Life is about this inning, not the last one or the one to come. (Can you tell I am ready for baseball season!)

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  5. All of us need to keep some perspective. I often remind myself when I am worried in the moment about one thing or another remember that for the vast majority of us mere mortals in 100 years there won't be a person alive that knows what we did or why. You can't undo the past so just move on and do the best you can while you can.

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    1. The current political turmoil is a good example. In one or two election cycles everything that is front page news today will have faded into history. What seemed so important today will have resolved itself in some way and we will have moved on.

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  6. Just found your blog, I love it. Thank you.

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    1. Always love to add readers from "Down Under"! You will find frugality and simplicity blog posts from time to time. Overall, I am a firm believer in living beneath your means and have a very satisfying time doing it.

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  7. Generally, I tend to be present-oriented, and do not spend much time regretting past mistakes, failures, or missed opportunities. However, sometimes I dwell on past happy times with great nostalgia and am overcome with sadness that those particular experiences are behind me and I can’t return to them. (E.g., the years when my children were little, or when I lived just down the street from my best friends but now they are many miles away.) Very silly really, and I know am am lucky to have had those good times in the past. I reassure myself by telling myself that I have not really lost the past; it is always with me in my memories.

    Jude

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    1. We just returned from a 4 day stay with friends in California. Both Betty and I came home with a reappreciation of the role of friends in our life and how good our life is.

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