You know how you can picture something in your mind, like a daydream about a person, job, or just the future in general? And you know how great it seems, and how convincing it can be—the idea that when/if you have that thing/experience/person . . . everything will be great?
I think we all do that. We hope, we dream, we anticipate. And yet, how often do our expectations fall short? How often is it that we get there and it’s just. . . okay? Or it’s downright bad? How often are we disappointed by these little ‘glimpses’ into the future?
If you’re anything like me, it’s too often.
I’m an idealist. I see everything as it could be, which makes it dangerously easy for me not to accept things as they are. It makes it incredibly tempting to always think about what’s next. Because whatever is next will be better. Until it’s not. And then I just anticipate the next thing, and so on.
Until eventually, disappointment gets the best of me. I am overwhelmed by the weight and number of my failed visions; hopes that were hung out to dry.
When I was unhappy a few years ago, I just wanted to meet someone. I was convinced that it would ‘fix’ me. And then I did, but somehow—as beautiful as it was—it was also much more difficult than I had anticipated. I kept hoping it would get better. I kept assuring myself that we would make it, until we didn’t.
And then when we broke up and I was offered what felt like the dream job. I imagined what it would be like to live in that city, to meet the people there, to work at such a great organization.
And then I got there. And it turns out that people here are just as human as people everywhere else; frustrating and broken. It turns out that your workout routine doesn’t miraculously improve just because you moved to a different state. And it turns out that work is still work, and that no matter how great a company may seem—they will have no qualms about laying you off after nine months along with 30 other people because of a reorganization.
I’ve learned that no amount of dreaming and scheming and planning and preparing will protect you from a hard truth about the human experience: life is hard.
And it’s messy, and it’s heartbreaking, and it’s beautiful and worthwhile.
But it’s hard.
And the future won’t not be hard. It may be different, it may bring good things, but it isn’t all a long walk on the beach either. Life is just difficult. Suffering is real and bad things happen all the time.
I say this as someone who over the last year or so has experienced a lot of disappointment, too much. But also as someone who doesn’t want to lose the goodness of the present because of the ‘glimpses’ into the future. I mean, hope is good. We should hope and dream—hopes and dreams are indicative of our desires, and desires are really important. But we shouldn’t dream so much that we’re missing out on the now. Because even if the now is hard— and right now it really is— it’s still good. There is still goodness here. It may not feel good. it may not look good. But it is.
I believe this partially because of hindsight. There are times I can look back on and understand that even in the midst of suffering, there were graces taking place in that time. Of course I don’t see this in all times of suffering, not yet at least. But certainly some. And I say this too, because of the comfort I have been offered during my most acute times of distress. Just the number of people offering support, in one small way or another, is enough for me to see how suffering brings us together and allows us to give and receive love in a way that doesn’t always take place when things are fine and good.
Suffering evokes compassion and empathy, two of the greatest traits a person can have and act upon. These acts or dispositions rarely fix the problem. They don’t eliminate suffering. But they do help alleviate the pain, even if just a little. Because they serve as a reminder that we are loved.
That’s why it is so important that, in spite of our hopes and dreams for the future, we remain rooted in the present. Because otherwise a) your life will pass you by while you were waiting for things to get better, and b) you just never know who needs some empathy and compassion right now.
Life is hard, it just is. There’s no point pretending—as we try so desperately to on social media—that this isn’t the case.
But maybe the future isn’t the right place to look for happiness. Maybe it’s amidst the difficulty, in the middle of the challenge, within the heartbreaks and crushing disappointments.
Now it’s all we’ve got. So we can look for the good and beauty in it, or we can give it up as a bad job, understanding that we are sacrificing living for dreaming.
I’m going to look for the good, I’m going to try.