Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Since I am a Kdrama fan, you maybe wondering what’s on my playlist. It’s “Record of Youth,” a recent series on Netflix. This is a heart-warming love story, with the underpinnings of life goals and struggles, a tale of life-long friendships and their families, and intergenerational relationships. In my opinion, every Millennial and Gen Z should watch this. The life lessons you can glean from this series are so worth it; the entertainment is a bonus.
This blog post is not about the drama though, but I’d like to borrow a line from the drama that, unconsciously, has been one of my anchors since the day I began to practice substantial thought and reflection about life: LEARN FROM THE PAST. LIVE IN THE PRESENT. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. When I look back, I realize that my own happiness, in part, is shaped by how well I maintain a balance of these three. Hence, I call it the “triangle of life” (please do not confuse this with the theory associated with earthquake survival.)
In my 20s, the natural planner in me focused a lot on preparing for the future - my life goals were my driver, and that includes the financial gains associated with it. I would be a hypocrite if I say that money was not part of it. But let me set this straight - my take has always been that money is a means, not an end. It is an enabler: it certainly has enabled, and continuously enable, me to achieve many meaningful pursuits in life. I take pride in being able to conscientiously and responsibly build the foundations of my future. Not to say that I did not learn from my past. I’ve always practiced retrospective analysis and considered them in most decisions I’ve made. Did I always live in the present back then? Not all the time. I found joy during countless moments and occasions. But I realized that I also missed quite a few primarily because for some aspects of my life, I was less of a risk-taker at that time. But that’s a different story altogether and I hope to tell that story in future blogs.
In my 30s, I continued to plan for the future with the same energy as in my 20s. But the challenges of raising three young kids prompted me to make a conscious decision to veer more towards living in the present. I quit a fulfilling career in international development, left my motherland (what I thought as temporary relocation became permanent, eventually), became a full-time mom and did every domestic chore you can imagine. It was through these “mom things” that I also forged meaningful friendships with fellow “trailing spouses” in the community where we lived. That was the period in my life when life goals were solidly replaced by life’s purpose. I began to really appreciate the joy of living in the present. Did this realization come as a result of an "existential crisis" or something to that effect? Maybe. But I thought of it less philosophically that way; to me the joy really came from embracing change and the countless opportunities that came along with it. The unprecedented changes in my 32 years of existence at that time came as a deluge. But since I am a Project Manager by profession, I tackled each "deluge" like "one project at time." That was one of the best lessons I have ever learned in my entire life.
Why LEARN FROM THE PAST? Because learning is a source of continuous improvement. Learning from victories and defeats strengthens the warrior in us. But we must know when to move on from the past. Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb you in the future.
Why LIVE IN THE PRESENT? The present can be the source of our greatest joy. The present is tangible, can be felt, and dealt with right now. It’s neither a dream nor an aspiration. If your present is happy, savor it. Fill your heart and mind with all the happy thoughts of the present. As young folks put it, the future is uncertain and YOLO (you only live once). However, if you live in the present for too long, you might fall into the trap of hedonism. You live only to seek pleasure and immediate gratification. It might, eventually, bring the same undue anxiety as it is when you worry about the future.
Why PLAN FOR THE FUTURE? Planning gives you perspective. It allows you to organize, focus, and commit to the purpose you have envisioned for yourself. It gives clarity about the most important things that you needed to do and provides you a sense of control. But too much of future thinking can be a source of stress and anxiety.
The many years of life experience have taught me to look at life in retrospect with humor and wit. I find that achieving inner peace and joy in the present is no more than appreciating the small things that make you happy. In planning for the future, I embrace uncertainties, risks and vulnerability with relative ease since no one can really predict the future accurately. I’d say then that my life triangle now is more balanced. I would not necessarily call it an equilateral but I always strive to find the “middle ground.”
We are unique in our drivers and desires. I am not suggesting that when you get the balance in the triangle of life, your happiness is guaranteed. My take has always been to trust you own unique path. Don’t lose your own voice in the noise of the world. In the end, no one determines your own happiness but yourself.