Your early life is nothing but big milestones, and that’s a shame.
In your early years, everything is a major, transformative event that creates these clear bright lines between your old life and your new life. Ask any 7-year-old how different they are now that they’re no longer 6, and they’ll tell you of the vast differences. Every new year is a new grade in school. Then it’s graduating from middle school, then high school. Maybe college and maybe grad school. All these big things with clear end points where you get to say “Done! Now my life is fundamentally different!”
And then suddenly it’s not.
No wonder adults feel so lost. For the first couple of decades of your life, you’re crossing finish lines all the time, and then suddenly the rest of your life is just an endless series of gradual transitions. You don’t graduate from anything anymore.
When you’re working towards something specific, something with an end goal, your capacity for endurance is incredible. You can sacrifice immensely, work incredibly hard, and make positive trade-offs for your future – as long as that future is brightly defined.
We do that because we tell ourselves that just over the next hurdle is the promised land. If we just complete this one more thing, cross this one last finish line, we’ll finally be able to relax. To be content and happy and safe and secure and wealthy and loved.
If I could promise you $100,000,000 at the end of a year of grueling labor, you could probably do almost anything in that year with a smile (I’m not talking about immoral things, just difficult or painful ones). But what if I offered you 50 times that amount for 50 years? Why isn’t that a good deal any more?
Because what would be the point? You won’t have any time left to enjoy the fruits of your labor – you’ll have sacrificed your whole life, and all the joy and wonder and love it could have contained.
It’s a very good thing to sacrifice now for benefits tomorrow. It’s good to delay gratification and serve your future self. But to some extent that service has to be itself enjoyable or you miss the point.
I work out today because I want to be healthy tomorrow. But my workout routine isn’t super intense, and I enjoy it. If it took 3 hours every day and I absolutely hated it, it wouldn’t be worth it no matter how healthy it made me in the long run or how many years it added to the end of my life.
You can (and should!) make your own finish lines. Set your own big milestone goals and then sacrifice to accomplish them. If you do that, you’ll strike a good balance between what’s important tomorrow and what matters today. You don’t want to live entirely for the present or entirely for a day that will never come – those are the extremes of unhappiness. Instead, you want your present and future self to work as a team to make both happy.
Love your life, today and tomorrow.