Groundhog Day Is Real And You’re Living It

2010 October 19

I’ve been thinking a lot about tenability, sustainability and the long term lately.There’s the idea that if you just keep on keeping on that you’ll eventually catch a break. Dues will be paid, you’ll figure out a system, things will get easier. But what if they don’t? What if the path you’re currently on is never going to level out, never going to get less rocky and will always force you to march uphill (both ways, natch)? And for a lot of people (chronic illness, systemic poverty, workers whose skills are of little value in the knowledge economy), that’s the reality.

Photo by scazon

What happens when you subtract future-focused hope from the equation is that you force yourself to confront the here and now on its own terms and not simply as a stepping stone to the notion of a better and brighter tomorrow that you may be clinging to. Maybe a glut of education grads means you’ll have to spend the next 10 years as a substitute teacher. Maybe your freelancing will never take off and you’ll always be living pay check to uncertain pay check until you trade it in for Social Security. Maybe you won’t ever get out of the mail room. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Your fortunes may skyrocket or they may not. Counting on the upswing keeps you from critically assessing whether you could live happily without that upswing or whether it’s the mental crutch that makes now tolerable. Time to see if you can stand up without it.

It’s not about  frantic back-up plans and escape hatches and freakouts, it’s about deciding whether you’re willing to live your today as your tomorrow and what that would look like. In other words, is today tenable? Does it make you happy enough to be okay with repeating a version of it for the next 40 years? Hand on heart, answer honestly.  And if it doesn’t? Well, right now (and not tomorrow) is the time to start thinking about what you’re willing to do about that in practical, concrete, non-panicky terms.

If  your life on its current trajectory was never going to be any more fulfilling for you than it is right now, would you still live it the same way or would you make changes?

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7 Responses
  1. 2010 October 19
    Jessica Balmer permalink

    Wow! This is an amazing post! Incredibly timely and direct and helpful.
    Well done!

  2. 2010 October 19

    I swear I think we channel similar thoughts at the same time! lol. I was JUST thinking about this – what if the future plans that will make the present brighter don’t/can’t come to fruition? It’s really made me think about how much I can tolerate my current situation as I try to put together feasible plans for the future. It’s also made me come up with a couple of different options for my future – I know that there is not one set path, and that each path will bring some amount of happiness, some more than others.

  3. 2010 October 19
    Ty Unglebower permalink

    I admit, that’s a bit depressing to me. If my life were never to be any different than it is now, it would not be very worth living, in my view. It has been much different for 10 years so far. If hope is a crutch, I don’t know what to replace it with to get out of the life I currently live.

  4. 2010 October 19
    Anonymous permalink

    Heh. Sometimes, I have an upbeat piece half done and it just doesn’t feel right, so I scrap it in favor of writing something off-the-cuff. This was one of those times.

    I think it’s smart, as you say, to realize that there isn’t a set path and that you don’t need to trap yourself into making a certain option work at all costs because you’ve “committed” to it.

  5. 2010 October 19
    Anonymous permalink

    I think there’s “hope” and then there’s well-reasoned expectation. For example, maybe someone isn’t crazy about school, but they know that they’ll graduate in two years and be out in the field doing what they believe they’ll love. In that case, hope that their quality of life will improve in the future is pretty grounded and logical. But when there’s no evidence that circumstances will change (either because this is unknowable or the person isn’t actually doing anything active to alter them), that strikes me as a lot less productive and more a grasping at straws. Sure, it might allow us to sleep at night, but it doesn’t prompt us to take steps to make the unpleasant present (the aspect that we have the most control over) any more tolerable, which is where I think the missed opportunity lies.

  6. 2010 October 19
    Anonymous permalink

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. 2010 November 7
    Anonymous permalink

    Nice article! I myself struggle with making my dreams come to life and yet giving myself a contingency plan for the future. I’ve heard from many people, “If I had a backup plan, I wouldn’t have fought so desperately and made my dream come true.” Or, like JK Rowling says (I love sharing this video), “Rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I rebuilt my life.” http://bit.ly/9VBiAn In other words, many people who succeed at difficult to achieve lifestyles (making money from writing, tv/film, or other non-secure endeavors) aren’t vacillating between two lifestyles. They are the ones who, as you put it, are “willing to live your today as your tomorrow,” because for them, there’s nothing else left.
    I think the greatest danger is “hoping” that I’m catch a lucky break, but thinking to myself, “I have a backup plan if this doesn’t succeed,” and working hard enough on the backup plan that the vision is compromised. These kinds of professions require so much dedication. Frankly, I do have a backup. I’m applying to law school. But as soon as my applications are in, I’m going to fight with everything I have to get my product out and make it a success. I’ve taken a 20 hr/wk job that will barely (but will) cover my bills just so that I can spend as much time as possible working on my website. And if it looks like something–anything–might happen with my project, I’ll tell the law schools “Thanks, but no thanks.” I hope it’s enough dedication to succeed, but I don’t know.
    I don’t mind being poor, and I don’t think I mind facing reality–giving something a shot for a year or two, and if it looks like nothing is going to come of it, moving on to the next adventure. But for all those people out there who are straddling two lifestyles, hoping that their vision catches a break but spending lots of time preparing for their safety net, I’m pretty sure the safety net is going to be used.