Silencing the false, anxious hope of "when I get there..."
I used to be a “When I get there…” person.
I’d think things like:
It’ll be better when I have more money. And, Life will be easier once this month is over.
I would contemplate how much nicer my life could be — and would be — at some specific time in the future.
I would then celebrate my vast powers of mental alchemy — to turn my soothing thoughts into picturesque mental landscapes. I’d feel proud of what I had done.
Except for one thing: It didn’t accomplish anything at all.
In the meantime, my body was still firmly lodged in the present moment, taking up space.
The truth of the matter is this: Absolutely nothing was going on while I was doing my wishful thinking.
For me, what wishful thinking comes down to is anxiety.
It allows me to tell myself that I’m working on a problem when all I’m really doing is covering up my real emotions.
“When I get there” is another way to say, “I’m not there yet.”
And “I’m not there yet” comes with a lot of emotional baggage.
And emotional baggage? That stuff is heavy.
At some point, I realized I had tried to trick myself one too many times. I wised up to my familiar pattern and decided it wasn’t getting me where I wanted to go.
So I made a decision. I decided to drop the false hope of “When I get there” and replace it with something else.
So what do I think about now?
Just because I decided to break free from my thought-spinning doesn’t mean I immediately ended the cycle.
Old habits are hard to break.
And there is another very important reason that they are hard to snap out of.
Reassuring thoughts are more enjoyable than uncertain action. Which is another way to say that my mind is not the only mind that has been infiltrated by these kinds of thoughts.
All around me are other minds yammering away with “When I get there…” and “I can’t wait until the day when…” and “Only a few more months until…”
So my brain wants to fall in line. It wants to sync up with other brains that are doing similar things with their airy thoughts.
Enough of this, I’m really trying to change, to do something else.
But why put in all this hard work to change how brains normally operate?
To answer that, I’ll share a story.
I’m finishing up my final semester of graduate school, and the chatter around the “campus watercooler” is all about the countdown.
The number of months and days — even hours and minutes — until graduation. Until it’s all over. Until everything will be easier, less stressful, and life can get back to normal.
But what is normal? And what about the minutes and hours that are passing by me right now? Do they have to be stressful? Why don’t I stop to consider this more often?
I’ve been trying to develop the habit of questioning everything. From the most mundane to the most complex.
Is it really raining? Ok, yes it is. That’s easy enough.
But will I really hate that it’s raining because I didn’t bring an umbrella? Or is that a story I tell myself? What if it actually feels good?
Trivial matters aside, I also question how I feel about finishing graduate school.
Do I really want to graduate?
Yes, yes I do.
Do I love turning in assignment after assignment while also balancing the work at my social work internship , while also keeping up with my husband, family, and just-plain-life-in-general responsibilities?
But, if given the opportunity this very moment, to be transported out of my alleged misery and into a post-graduation future, would I accept the tantalizing offer?
Would I decide to leave this all behind and fast-forward my life?
I don’t think I would.
And this is why.
Because I have no clue what will actually happen between now and then.
What if the best thing in the world happens? What if someone decides to give me a million dollars? Would that make me happy?
What if my dad decides to call me and we have the most meaningful conversation we’ve ever had? Would I feel bad missing that?
If all I’m thinking about is graduation, then no, missing that doesn’t matter one bit.
But if I’m thinking about who I am as a person, I’d be pretty disappointed if I missed out on that conversation.
Actually, I’d be distraught.
Once a moment in time is lived, it can never be lived again.
And I’m realizing that I don’t want to spend my precious moments hoping for my life to be a certain way.
I don’t want to time-travel to the future so often that I forget to be in the present.
The present is all that I’ve got.
I want to take an honest look at what I’m feeling in my body when I’m hoping for something else.
Am I wishing away my present because I’m feeling anxious?
Am I hoping for a better future because I’m frustrated with I’m doing right now?
When I ask these questions, I find honesty buried underneath my time-traveling anxiety.
And this honesty has a tenderness that thorny anxiety never will.
There are times for thorny anxiety, for the prickly fear that protects me.
Then again, there are also times to be truthful, to check in with how I’m doing.
So this is a check-in.
How am I feeling right now, right in this very moment?
Honestly, I find it all to be a bit unnerving.
I find my curiosity genuinely wants to know how I am — and that unsettles me.
I find that I’m revealed and exposed to the elements. And now I realize, I completely forgot to worry about where I want to go and why I’m in such a hurry to get there.