Defining The Future Is Like Tackling Writer’s Block
Perspective on the future and how reading helps me focus
There are times in life when the future is clear. When I went off to college, I knew that June, four years later, was the target for graduation. When I got my first summer internship, the end date was defined. I worked hard to achieve both of those goals.
Even in more abstract situations, there’s generally some decision point that will influence the future. Take relationships — you meet someone new, you go through the phases of excitement, discovery, getting to know each other, and eventually arrive at the question of “where is this going?” Will it lead to marriage? To an amicable end, or a parting of ways, with a “it’s not you, it’s me” ending? Or to a divorce and fight over kids? Earlier in my life, I was called the “un-boyfriend” according to my now partner for some time because I put off that point of decision. In some situations, while the longer term future is unknown, the goal posts for the short-term can be defined.
As we enter adulthood though, and embark on building a career, or starting a family, those milestones can be harder to identify. The future becomes unclear, undefined and unknown. I experienced this when starting my first job out of college and not knowing what the future looked like, beyond retirement as the goal. Part of this was due to having an opportunity to set up a retirement account at the age of 23, a privilege I didn’t fully understand at that time. And part of it was due to not having a defined career plan at that early stage. An optimist might say “ the future is yours to own, seize the reins!” A pessimist knows this is hard to do, if you don’t know what you’re working towards.
An unclear future is a bit like writer’s block for me — I know I want to write something, but what? It’s hard to start without a point of reference, a spark of an idea, a starting point. This is what comes to mind for me when I think about “the future” today.
I’m an adult now. I finished all the education programs I planned on, for now at least. I found a great partner to share life with; we have two dogs to raise together. What’s next? What does the future hold? I ask myself those questions sometimes. My partner says I think too much about it, and don’t live in the moment. But for me, I feel grounded by having something to plan for, something to look forward to — a vacation, an event, or even just a trip to the grocery store. When it’s over, I plan the next one, sometimes immediately. Not being able to plan activities like this has been one of the hardest things to adapt to in the pandemic year we’ve all been living through.
One trick I’ve found to not think so much about the future, and also combat that writer’s block, is to open a book and start reading. When my mind is a haze, the act of reading focuses my attention and forces me to concentrate. It helps me surface new ideas. It’s as if setting one simple goal to read, whether it’s for 10 minutes a day or an hour, whether it’s a fiction story or non-fiction piece, helps my mind push away all the daily chores — laundry, bills, who will make dinner, who will clean the bathroom — into one compartment, while the rest of my mind can focus on creativity and brainstorming and new ideas. That simple act of picking up something to read helps me define a new future, both short-term and long-term.
So what is the future? I don’t know. I better keep reading. I better keep adding books to my list and making time to pick them up. I better keep turning those pages (or really, tapping next on my Kindle), and in the process, know that I am helping my mind manage through all those thoughts and dreams and worries that fill it up. I can’t predict the future. I’m not sure I would want to; it would spoil the fun of discovery. But I do know that, for me, the future will involve reading, and if I’m lucky, a fair amount of writing too.
If you are looking to write more regularly but struggle with what to write on, check out the Prompt app.