When we find the relics of predictions from scientists, writers, and theme park designers of yore, who tried to envision life in the future, there are plenty of laughable inaccuracies. Whether it’s a speculative article in a 1950’s newspaper, a campy ‘futuristic’ movie, or ‘The World of Tomorrow’ at Disneyland, the look ahead at our world is grandiose, ambitious, and often wrong. We haven’t colonized the moon, for instance, and the constant construction of highways suggests we’re no closer to the flying car. Sure, they get some things right (The Jetsons notably predicted a future filled with terrible animated programming), but by and large, the life we’re enjoying at present was not accurately foretold by the scientists and great thinkers of the past. So why then, on a much smaller scale, are we confident that our own personal future will play out just as we envision it?
We hear an awful lot about five year strategies, ladders of success, and the difference between a dream and a goal being a plan. Such maxims make sense to a point, of course. Complacency breeds inertia and so forth, best to have something to work on, a deadline to meet. Keeping ourselves within the confines of a rigidly structured life, however, removes any spontaneity. The sudden, seemingly random opportunities and pitfalls that arise are what keeps existence pretty interesting. The best and worst parts of life tend to have very little to do with following a prescribed trajectory.
Consider the young couple who move across the country to accommodate the career of one partner over another. Such relocation is a leap of faith half of the couple wasn’t counting on, but people do it every day. Think about the drug addict beginning his recovery, urged by everyone around him to “take it one day at a time.” There is no realistic long-term plan for someone in the throes of addiction beyond mere survival. Nor is there a plan for the soldier on the battlefield or labourer in the factory beyond just getting through the day. None of these eventualities can be planned for, but they’re circumstances that need to be dealt with nonetheless. The more adherent we are to our own plans, then, the less equipped we are to deal with any curves in the road.
I wish I could worry less about following my own script and just let things happen. I’m the jerk who spears every forkful of salad wishing he’d ordered the soup, and vice-versa. I’m the guy who lays out his clothes for the next day. I’m the adult who hears about the death of a child and subconsciously adds it to the list of reasons never to have kid of my own. But every really great thing that’s happened to me, from great job opportunities to great boyfriends, is thanks to a set of circumstances I couldn’t have possibly orchestrated. I’ve made great friends, for instance, by going to a party instead of staying home. I’ve made greater career strides by reaching out to the guy who met a guy who knows a guy I know and saying, “I know our connection is tenuous, but here’s why you’re going to be glad I contacted you.” Those occasions where I veered off the beaten path have been highly beneficial, but it’s easy to forget that when I’m planning for the future.
If I could have decided my life’s path at five years old, I’d be a fireman or a butterfly by now. If ten year old James made the rules, I’d be a ninja who owned his own candy factory. At fifteen, I probably wanted my own high rise apartment and a bigger dick. Twenty-five year old me envisioned a cheaper apartment and a smaller gut. Now I hope I can do less speculative planning and spend more time enjoying the futuristic amusement park ride of my adulthood. I hope I’m smart enough to take the right chances and grab at the opportunities while avoiding the pitfalls. I hope I can remember as I careen around unforeseen curves that the best way to enjoy the ride is to loosen the reins a little bit.