Last year I read Matt Haig’s book The Midnight Library, which I really enjoyed. I won’t spoil it for you, but the gist of it was that there are infinite ways our lives could turn out based on the smallest of decisions we make. In one life, one could be an Olympic athlete, in another a socially awkward loner with multiple cats, and every life in between. Each decision we make helps to shape the future we prepare for ourselves, thus the title, “Where are you going?”
The word “Decision” comes from the combination of two Latin words de (off) and caedere (cut) or to cut off. Decision then means to cut off every other option that exists. When we decide we choose our path and close off every other path available. It is overwhelming if you think about it too long and empowering if you find a way to manage it.
I recently read that the average adult is estimated to make around 35,000 decisions each day. This is where it gets overwhelming. Each one of those 35,000 decisions helps to define who you are and where you are going. It also means that where you are now is a reflection of every decision that you have made. If you like where you are, then good for you, you made some good decisions. If you are not crazy about where you are, the way I see it you have two options; you could wallow in your self-pity, or you could focus on making better decisions going forward.
It is this second option that I would like to focus on. In my book, Now What? A Practical Guide to Figuring Out Your Financial Future I refer to your “future self” and the responsibility you have to that person. Making some modest sacrifice today in order to set up your future self a little better is the primary point. This brings us back to the idea of making the decisions we make every day. It is unrealistic to focus on all 35,000 of them, most of which will not directly influence your life path. But, we can bring intentionality and attention to the more important ones.
We should have an idea of who we would like our future self to be. Let’s try a little exercise. Fast forward in your mind twenty years from now. In your ideal life, what are you doing? Where do you live? Are you fit or not so much? Are you happy? Are you surrounded by people who love you and validate you? What are you wearing? It is important to be as specific as you can be with this exercise. When I do this, I am usually alone, maybe some restful music on, and most assuredly my eyes are closed. I have done this so frequently over the course of my life that I can be so specific that I can almost feel myself living this future life, sipping an espresso under the shade of an umbrellaed bistro table along the perimeter of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. It may take some time, but it is worth it.
Once you have a decent idea of who you will become, it makes everything else fall right into place. Every decision that you make will be framed by this picture that you have created. You can ask yourself, if I choose this over that will it move me closer to the image of my future self or farther away. Take a very simple choice of what to eat. Would super sizing my biggie fries move me closer to my future self or a healthier alternative? Would hitting the snooze button on the alarm or hitting the gym move me closer to my future self? Would scrolling through my social media feed for an hour or picking up that book you have been meaning to read, help move me toward who I will become?
Going through these little thoughts have redirected my life in ways that I will never know, but I can tell you that I haven’t eaten anything from a drive through window in over twenty years. I find myself parking farther away from the door of the store rather than closer. We got rid of cable TV way before streaming and cord cutting became cool (about 25 years ago). I started reading books about the same time when before I had never picked up a book since the required reading in high school (for what it is worth, I read between 50 to 60 books a year now.)
I am not telling you this to brag or to hold up my life as some kind of example, because it is far from perfect. But I must confess that where I am now is more satisfying than where I visualized I would be twenty years ago. It didn’t happen by mistake but by a series of decisions that moved me closer to who I wanted to become.
I believe you are worth the time to figure out who you want to be and you are powerful enough to make it happen. You may have had people in your past who have tried to tell you who you are in unflattering terms: lazy, overweight, not that bright. You don’t have to believe them, and they have no power over who you will become. Your present circumstances in no way define who you are. This is more than positive thinking or affirmations. This is creating a series of decisions that will cut off paths that will bring you no closer to who you will be and help you march confidently down the paths that will.
I will leave you with a quote from the book/movie The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” I will confess that I cried when I first read that. The domestic help was speaking these words of empowerment into the mind of the sweet girl who she was responsible for raising. You are an adult, and you have the power every single day to choose and consequently shape the person you were destined to be. I truly believe that and I hope in some small way I have encouraged you to believe it too.