When you get bogged down in morbid thoughts, this really works.
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Ever wonder how the heck your life is going to turn out?
But instead of simply wondering about it, I worry about it. Am I doing the right things now so that I’ll be where I need to be when I’m old? Where do I want to be when I’m old? Am I working at the right job? Am I working enough? Am I being social enough? What if I get sick? What if the car breaks down and I can’t pay my bills and I then I can’t live here anymore? What if I lose my job? What’s my plan? What if my family dies in a tragic accident?
Okay, so my fears got progressively darker there, but what can I say — I worry a lot! I try to pretend I’m an optimist, but deep down, I assume that everything will go wrong at every turn.
When you’re in your twenties (and maybe thirties? I’ll get there and let you know), the idea that “your whole life is ahead of you” is not particularly comforting. If your whole life is ahead of you, where do you start?
All of my usual worries about what I’m doing with my life rushed through my mind last month, triggered no doubt by the coming of a new year and the fact that my family is outgrowing our little home. I sat down and picked up a book a new friend had given me with some reflections, aptly called Meditations on the Art of Waiting. I flipped to a chapter and started reading, and lo and behold, it was about worrying. Ah! It was so good.
Instead of wondering and worrying about all the bad things that could happen in the future, or constantly second-guessing our decisions, the author writes that we should wonder about all the good things that will happen. What people will you meet who will enrich your life? What new experiences will you have? What will bring you joy and laughter this year? What beauty will you see? Bad things can always happen, but anticipating them just means that you live through them twice.
That really made me stop and realize how much fear I was living in. Will I experience rough patches, hard times, and pain in my life? Yes, of course. Will I make an imprudent decision that will negatively affect my future? Probably. But if I spend my energy imagining every bad scenario that could happen and how it will play out, I am not using my energy or time well.
Since reading that chapter in that book, when I’m tempted to wallow in the scary what-ifs, I try to turn it around to the what-wills. What will go right this year? What will my favorite memories be? And because I don’t want to set any crazy expectations, I then focus on what went well last year. I think about the best parts of 2018, and how grateful I am for the little and big things that happened.
And when I wonder if my future will turn out okay, with my whole life ahead of me, I realize my worries are superficial. Having a good life is a bit of a strange thing to be able to quantify. Who am I comparing my life to? Whose life am I using as the measuring stick of success?
My life is a good life now. If I live today well, by loving and serving the people I encounter, it will be a day well spent. And if that’s what I focus on every day? At least I’ll have loved by the end of my life, come what may.
So bring it on, future. My whole life is ahead of me.
The best cure for anxiety: The “surrender prayer”