The Painful Path to Discovering “Present-Thinking”
Editor's Note: Read the post below, and then watch this video for more thoughts on the importance of joy and gratitude in your daily life.
“Where do you live? In the past, the present, or the future?” I asked my friend Ron as we were leaving dinner.
Ron (not his real name) answered without hesitation, “I live in the future.”
“What about your wife?” I asked.
“She lives in the past,” he said quickly.
My questions were prompted by our dinner conversation.
He was having difficulty making decisions. Particularly decisions that had a long-term impact. I’ve known Ron for a very long time and didn't understand why he couldn’t come to a decision.
It was odd.
Suddenly I realized I’m the same way. I can’t decide because, like Ron, I’m unclear of my future.
Boom! It hit me.
People who live in the future need a vision for where they are headed. Give me a vision, and I am a decision-making machine.
But how do I live without a vision?
I’ve always been a future-thinker. It's served me well. I am proud of it. I like thinking about where I am headed. I don’t care where I am right now.
But this future-thinking causes me to be anxious. It is an anxiety I’ve lived with all my life. I’ve lived in the future for so long, I think some level of anxiety is normal. I just lived with it.
Until I couldn’t live with it any longer, so I drank more.
This overwhelming anxiety hit me in my mid to late thirties. On the run-up to this time in my life, I had a clear vision—wife, kids, house, cars, business, money, and success.
Then one day, it wasn’t enough.
My first step in solving this emptiness was to double down. Ignore those feelings of discontent and unfulfillment. I put my head down. I needed to get back to work doing what I was doing.
Get more, achieve more in each of those categories. It didn’t work. In fact, in addition to being anxious, I was now depressed. This led to seeking even more relief in alcohol. Not good.
Looking back, I now realize, as a future-thinker, I didn’t like the path I was on. It was a path toward a vision I didn’t care about. That current path would lead me to success but as a corporate executive. It was a path to success and riches, a well-trodden and predictable path. It just wasn’t my path. I thought it was when I was twenty-eight but knew it wasn’t at thirty-eight.
A future-thinker with no vision of the future is a future addict.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know…
I almost lost my wife and kids during the double-down period.
I lost my corporate job. Whether I quit or was fired doesn’t matter. It was gone.
I couldn’t find another job because people interviewing me knew I was not sure I really wanted to do this again. People smelled the indecision on me.
I addressed my alcoholism by going to AA. There I received the grace of God and his miraculous healing of my addiction.
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
I became dependent on Him and followed Him.
This series of events took two years. Then a miracle happened. Through some weird set of events put in motion by my past relationships, I became a professional angel investor. A new career!
A new vision popped into my head, “Invest in twenty startup companies over the next twenty years.” I thought smugly, “When I turn sixty, I’ll look back and say, ‘That was one heck of a great career.'”
For the next twenty years, I executed on this vision.
Kathy and I raised our kids, led ministries, invested in our community, developed amazing friendships, and built wealth. It was an incredible twenty years. And then I was sixty, and it was over. Vision accomplished.
I had no vision again. I was still a future-thinker but once again with no vision.
With no vision for my life, my anxiousness returned. At first, I could handle it. It was like an old, annoying friend who returned to visit. If he stayed for a short time, I could handle it. But he stayed longer… sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, and he just kept hanging around. The anxiety was becoming overwhelming again.
I cried out to God for help. I received no answer.
With no vision, I doubled down on the current professional angel investor vision. This led to bad decisions. I got sloppy and lazy. And I was sloppy and lazy because I didn’t care enough to be a great angel investor.
I learned I make bad decisions during a double-down period. Now I’d done this a second time in my life. The anxiety continued.
“I need a vision for my life,” I cried out to God and close friends who would listen. God was silent. Everybody else told me what my vision for my life should be. I listened to God. I was frozen. Over time, this caused me to move from being a future-thinker to a present-thinker.
What a difference.
Present-thinking is filled with joy and gratitude.
But in those moments when I snap back to future-thinking, the overwhelming anxiousness returns. The friend is back. This causes me to seek relief. My relief isn’t alcohol, but it is a tranquilizer from time to time. It takes the edge off the anxiousness and makes the old friend tolerable.
The long-term solution isn’t drugs or alcohol but staying in the present.
My reflex is to live in the future. But without a vision for the future, the void is filled with anxiety. It is like I am living a life without purpose. But I have learned this is a lie. I am making a difference right now to all the people around me by just doing what I am doing. Including writing this article to you.
I am convinced through all of this, God brought me to the present.
He gave me a taste of what it is like to live in the present. I liked the experience, and now I want to be a present-thinker. Every day I want to make the present my thinking reflex. To enjoy this moment. This time right now, I am writing to you, my reader. This is a very special moment. It is intimate and enjoyable for me, and hopefully for you, too.
Maybe God blessed you from the start like he blessed my wife, Kathy. She is a present-thinker. She’s always been. She is the most fun and loving person I know on this earth. Just this morning, we had a conversation about this, and she showed me again the joy of the moment, the present.
But she also brought up a great point. “I don’t know what my life would have been like without you. I think God brought us together because I needed a future-thinker as a husband, and you needed a present-thinker as a wife.”