Don’t Press Fast-Forward on Your Life

It’s Wednesday. Whether you’re in the office break room or browsing social media, today always seems to generate the same chorus of calendar-based commentary:

“It’s hump day!”

“Halfway there!”

“Friday is in sight!”

That’s a nice, positive way to look at it, though in the middle of a grueling work week, I often preferred George Carlin’s more humorous take:

“T.G.I. Friday’s… If I had a place like that, you know what I’d call it? H-S-I-O-W. Holy Shit, It’s Only Wednesday. I think people would drink a lot more liquor if they thought it was Wednesday all the time.”

Whichever perspective resonates with you this week, the underlying message is basically the same: The work week is a slog. We suffer through five days of drudgery for two days of relief. But hey, it’s almost reward time again.

Dont-press-fast-forward-on-life

We can all relate, can’t we? Who doesn’t prefer the weekend? “Just a few more days,” we think. “Then it will be better.”

It’s not just a weekly exercise, either. Most of us live our whole lives with this future orientation, whether it’s celebrating “Three months until our next vacation!” or counting down “Just one more year until I finish my degree!”

We’re taught to think this way as soon as we can form a coherent sentence: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes “What are you going to study?” which quickly turns into “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

This isn’t all a negative thing. Setting big-picture goals can help us figure out what we really want out of life.

But too often, we’re so focused on the desired outcomes that we don’t even enjoy what’s happening in front of us. We want results, not the process that comes with them.

We don’t want to get in shape; we want to be skinny.

We don’t want to hustle and save money every day; we want to be financially independent.

We don’t want to learn a language; we want to speak it fluently.

Or, to paraphrase a Mark Twain quote, we don’t want to read classic novels; we want to have read them.

When Daniel and I share our travel experiences with friends and family, the most common question isn’t “What was your favorite place?” or “What did you learn there?” It’s “Where next?”

I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m future-oriented to a fault. I want results, and I want them now. In the fourth grade, I bawled my eyes out when I couldn’t master long division on the very first day it was taught to the class. Even today, sitting in some exotic destination, my mind can’t help but wander to fantasies of camping in Banff or motorcycling across Vietnam someday.

What’s the hurry?

Our time on this planet is our most precious asset. When all we do is focus on what’s next, we’re pressing fast-forward on our lives, ignoring the reality in front of us and spinning the reels closer and closer to the end of the tape.

Big goals for the future are great. Daniel and I set plenty of them. But if we’re not enjoying the process – if we’re not finding satisfaction and meaning along the way – we’d be wise to shift our focus away from the dreamy happy ending to making the hours, days, weeks, and years that it takes to reach those goals just as enjoyable.

24 Comments

  1. Such a great reminder. Our society has become all about instant gratification and that seems a really hard habit to break. It’s difficult not to look forward when the goals you set today seem unattainable without time to achieve them. And since time comes from the future, that is the obvious direction to focus.

    My focus is financial independence – with a lofty goal to be free in the next 6 years it seems a giant waiting game from paycheck to paycheck. I want it NOW!!! 😉 I have made some strides with my patience and stopped looking at the day to day and now focus on the month to month which has freed up the other 30 days to live in the moment.

    Travel is a different ballgame because the more you do it the more experiences you have to compare your current location to which can work for or against your current state. In the end, just being grateful for the opportunities and experiences you’ve had is a big step in the right direction of appreciating the here and now.

    • I’m sure the number of times I checked my “countdown to FI” spreadsheet was easily in the thousands. I find it hard not to obsess when I want something so badly! You’re definitely right about travel; we’ve spoken with some long-term travelers who find it more and more difficult to be truly wowed by a new place when they’ve already seen so much. Like you said, it’s all about being thankful for what we have in the here and now.

  2. Very thoughtful. Enjoyed reading this.

    It was Mrs. PIE who told me of a favorite phrase of a an old aunt.

    “Life is not a dress rehearsal”

    I’ll also take the time to give you a quote that I love from a great poet (Robert Burns) from my home country:

    But pleasures are like poppies spread
    You seize the flower, it’s bloom is shed
    Or like the snow falls in the river
    A moment white then melts for ever

    He was basically saying – Enjoy the now.

    • Love both of those quotes, Mr. PIE. The dress rehearsal idea is particularly moving — a great reminder to not put off our dreams in perpetuity!

  3. This is a great reminder! It’s good to be goal oriented especially long term but sometimes we all need to slow down and focus on the present.

  4. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    August 17, 2016 at 8:20 am

    This is really important to remember. Happiness is the journey, not the destination.

    Nick Offerman had a bit about “thank God its Friday” on his stand-up special on Netflix. He says something to the effect of, “It’s so sad that in our society people say ‘Thank God it’s Friday.’ Thank God that five of the seven days of my week are over, because I hate five sevenths of my life.”

    I think we all could do better at enjoying and appreciating the present.

    • I hadn’t seen that Nick Offerman bit; that’s perfect! I don’t have delusions that every work day will be perfect, even with the best job in the world, but having that “five sevenths” feeling every week should definitely be a wake-up call.

  5. This is great. and very apt for all of my goals. I have very vague goals like “be conversant in Cambodian” and “be strong.” But these are process-oriented goals. They will take time and have no easy ways to measure progress. I was talking to Mr. T about the Olympians. That’s pretty obvious if you reach your goal or not: “Yay, I made the Olympics and medaled! This is what I’ve been working toward.” For the rest of us, our goals are day to day greatness. And it’s hard to remember that some days. 🙂

    • That’s a really interesting point about different types of goals. When the objectives are nebulous like that, it’s much harder to track and appreciate progress.

  6. It’s interesting how the “where’s next” question is the one asked most often.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, given the travel we may want to do in earlier years, while we’re still in good enough shape to enjoy it. Time moves so slowly when you’re a kid and just flies by when you’re older. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy each part of the journey.

    • That changing perception of the speed of time has been on my mind a lot lately; the years sure seem to fly by more and more quickly. More reason to appreciate the present before it’s gone.

  7. Great post Matt, I am guilty of almost everything you listed in this post. It is tough not to look forward to the weekend or big events in the future.

    I catch myself saying “one day” and need to turn that into “today”.

    I think an easy hobby that doesn’t have a huge time investment can make everyday more meaningful. If I could fish everyday, I would, but getting off work, then Going to the lake, launching a boat getting to the spot and actually casting takes way to much time. Instead I should focus on building stuff in the garage and save other things for the weekend.

    • Thanks, AE — I’m guilty, too! I like that idea to make time for hobbies and other activities where possible throughout the week, so it’s not all-or-nothing between the work week and weekend.

  8. Dear Matt,
    I enjoy how thought provoking your blog is-and viewing your pictures! Your topic today is one I think about a lot. I realized a while back that I say to myself, “after I accomplish this” or “after that happens” I can enjoy life and focus on the important things. I have done that my whole life! It is more that just “Living in the moment” but doing something that brings meaning and purpose my life and helping others. It seems I am always too busy or not motivated to do what I need to do to achieve this purpose. It is almost like I am waiting for someone to give me directions when I need to direct my own way. The funny thing is at if someone gave me directions I would probably resent it. 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Mary Jo. I completely relate to that “once this happens” mentality with satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness. It’s easy to let that target keep changing, too. I recall some of my own goals slipping with new, higher financial targets — “I’ll do it when I have a year’s spending saved” became “I’ll do it when I have six figures in the bank” became “well, just a few more paychecks … then I’ll be comfortable!” If not now, then when?

  9. I see this happening all the time. My girlfriend’s job is very much time-limited and people have been asking her since she began it what she’ll be doing next. She’s really focused on doing an excellent job instead. It throws people off. But her focus is making her achieve incredible things.

    • That’s awesome that she’s just focusing on doing a great job now. Answering the “what’s next” question often isn’t as challenging or time-consuming as it’s made out to be.

  10. Thanks for the reminder, but it’s tough to do! I have been making a conscious effort to enjoy the day-to-day more, but when 10 or so hours are taken up by work… makes you wish for the future where work doesn’t exist 😉

    • I know, easy for the guy with no job to say, right? This was one of the deciding factors for me in quitting my job when I did. Things could be a lot more financially comfortable if I had just stuck it out another couple years, but I was in a pretty deep rut of dreading the work week and looking forward only to the weekends and holidays. Better to extricate myself from that and figure out how to make things work along the way long-term.

  11. Yes! So much this. I tend to be super goal oriented as well. I think most PF nerds tend to be that way. Big planners, always focused on the end result.

    What I’ve learned about goals is that generally when I achieve them I don’t stay there and enjoy them. Almost immediately, I set a new one. This process of setting new goals mostly ensures I’m always waiting for something. Thankfully I don’t presently work a regular five day week but sometime in the future I will. I aim to stay with the days and find joy in them, rather than always waiting for relief, happiness, and fun. You have to find joy in now.

    It was a short one but I think you said all that needed to be said.

    • It’s a double-edged sword, for sure. We set and reach these mega-goals because we’re such big planners, but they can also detract from enjoying anything before we reach them. And then, like you mentioned, we’re on to the next goal almost immediately!

  12. Excellent remeinder. TO me, this would be my biggest self improvement point: Enjoy what I am living now. When on a trip with the family, when playing a game: enjoy it. And in between, think back to these great memories. That leaves plenty of time to dream and plan for the future!

    Enjoy your travels

    • I also try to stay conscious of enjoying our travels first and thinking about sharing the experiences (via this blog and elsewhere) second. Some travel bloggers we follow are prolific with their content, but I don’t know how they have any time to enjoy the destinations with all the video and writing they put out. Seems like a full-time job!

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