My dear friend Sarah shared this beautiful speech with me, because as I’ve navigated the space between college and career, I haven’t really taken a breather.
This probably isn’t the first time many of us have been told to live fully in the present (especially if you’re reading elephant journal right now). Some of us listen, some of us don’t, but regardless, many of us don’t have a full grasp on how to completely do it (myself very much included).
I think most of us have inadvertently been raised to struggle with it. We’ve grown up being judged on our titles, our things and our abilities to always advance. We’re always seeking notches on our belts, briefly pausing to check them off our lists before continuing onto the next ones. That is, if we haven’t already started on them. And so we’re too wrapped up in the notches to ever pay attention to the singular moments in which we exist.
As I continue my job search, I’m worried about this. I’m worried about waking up at 40, realizing I’ve arrived at nothing, and feeling cheated by a chase that never ended. What if I settle for a desk job and get trapped there because I need greater financial stability? Or grow up to realize that I have to work in a cube nine to five if I ever want to support the people I hope I’m lucky enough to support in the future?
I know my responsibilities will only continue to grow and demand more and more of me. But what if I let them suffocate my responsibility to keep myself happy and appreciate the present?
How do I even go about living in the present anyways?
Oh, the irony. Here I am, living only partially in the present because I’m worrying about whether I will ignore the present in my future. And I think that’s where my answer is hiding.
Many of us have grown conditioned to worry and worry and worry about everything. “I can’t do this; it might get me in trouble.” “Can’t do that, I have to work a 12-hour day tomorrow.”
Maybe that mindset sounds right to the perfectionist who doesn’t care about being alive, or doesn’t even know that she isn’t. Who would rather ignore every part of her world to check her watch every 10 minutes, and shove people out of her way in her rush to be on time for whatever it is that’s worthy of worrying and shoving and panicking.
Someone who thinks it’s okay that his boss doesn’t see him as a human but rather a machine part whose mistakes suggest character flaws; someone who doesn’t mind spending the majority of her days in a fluorescent lighted cubicle because it will one day lead to a promotion, and money, and more promotions, and more money, and more notches. And that’s living, right? …Right?
Learning and growing, and often planning, are vital. They keep us curious, alive, changing along with everything else. Achieving potential and dreams is one of life’s great joys. And if we focus our dreams on things that make us truly feel alive, energized and whole, then our growth and advancements will become seamless parts of our presence and aliveness.
We have to believe we are worthy of doing what makes us feel alive, not what makes other people think we are successful. Even if it means roadblocks and hardships and terrifying changes, because we won’t ever regret our excruciating moments, but we will always regret the ones that felt like nothing.
Alan Watts leaves us with a quote that makes a heck of a lot of sense. “There is no use planning for a future, which when you get to it and it becomes the present, you won’t be there. You’ll be living in some other future which hasn’t yet arrived. And so in this way, one is never able actually to inherit and enjoy the fruits of one’s actions. You can’t live at all, unless you can live fully now.”
P.S., If you haven’t, I encourage you to listen to more of Alan Watts’ speeches—they are inspiring.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: YouTube video still