When some of my peers turned 30, a common thread among some of them was that it was all downhill from there. For those unpartnered, there was a sense that a partnership was out of reach. “I’m 30, so who’s going to want me?“
The interesting part for me is that when some of my peers turned 40, that exact same sentiment was expressed. “I’m 40, so who’s going to want me?” I don’t know for certain, but I wonder if those same people said the same thing 10 years ago.
Believe me, I understand. I played music for much of my life, and I distinctly remember the time when I felt like my time had passed me by. I felt like if any of my music was going to matter to people, it probably would have happened by now. I quit soon afterward.
We all have a strong tendency to say that some things are “too late”. Too late to find a partner, too late to learn a foreign language, too late to get a music career going. Most of all, too late to be financially safe.
And while it’s probably too late to be, say, the “youngest person ever” to do some particular feat, you don’t need to be the youngest person to do anything. Life isn’t a race where the first person wins and everyone else loses.
As long as you are still breathing, you are still on track.
The way I think about this involves a taking a particular proverb, and turning it on its head.
There is a Chinese proverb that states that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.“
The goal here is to shift your thoughts away from the past and into the present. When people talk about financial decisions they made in the past that affect them today, this is often the resulting thought. “I wish I could change the past, but I can’t.”
And yes, you can’t go back in time like Marty McFly and change the past, but you do have today. You can start right now.
Days of future past
I find this proverb a good reminder, but perhaps a little inadequate.
To which, I have a suggestion to think about: What if you were to fast forward the clock twenty years?
In most cases, in twenty years, you’ll still be alive. Many people are living longer than ever these days, and if you’ve made it to adulthood, even cracking the big 1-0-0 isn’t totally out of reach.
So, picture yourself twenty years from now. What are you going to wish you could go back in time and tell yourself today? What decisions would you tell yourself to make? What actions? What plans?
Today’s tree planting is, 20 years from now, the tree that you planted 20 years ago.
When you move your thoughts away from the past and into the future, there is a shift. Future thinking allows us to be more open, be more mindful, less stifled and scared. Knowing that we have a future is a powerful motivator to get us to change the present.
This isn’t abstract for me. I know those who have been lamenting about their “helpless” condition so long that it has now been over almost two decades since I first heard their lament. “If only I could have done something back then,” is the refrain, not realizing that they are talking about a time when they were saying the same thing!
In all but the most unfortunate cases, we are not completely helpless. We have the power to change our situation, to make the present different from the past, the future different from the present. You just need to look to the future, and see that you have accountability. The decisions you make today matter.
Twenty years from now, when your future self comes calling, what are you going to have to say to yourself? Will you wish you had done differently? Or will you congratulate yourself on your foresight?
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