I don’t want to die. But we’ll circle back to that.
Everything you do in life must serve two purposes. First, it must serve your life in this moment. It must create joy, or purpose, or wellbeing for you during its duration. Second, it must serve the future things you want to do. It must lead in a direction you want to go, clearing obstacles and guiding you along a proper path.
It is fine to trade off between those two, balancing one against the other. But all things must have at least a non-negative value in both, or you are damaging your own life.
This guideline applies to all things, great and small. The scope matches scope, but the principle is the same.
Imagine a small decision: your next meal. Perhaps inconsequential as a single decision, it still becomes part of the weave of habits that create your pattern – your existence. That meal must both improve your wellbeing now, and serve your forward progress. In order to maximize the first value, you’d probably spend an enormous amount of money on a truly opulent and very likely unhealthy meal. In order to maximize the second value, you’d probably extremely carefully measure and plan every calorie for maximum nutritional value against money spent. You can’t maximize both, but you can find a comfortable balance, a Pareto-optimal solution.
What you should not do, however, is eat something truly disgusting that you will hate, just because it serves the longer term. The values should not be negative. You are serving a future life, but you are also living a present one. You are always moving from one to the other, and both sides of a bridge must be secure in order for the bridge to function.
Larger decisions, those with broader scope or more impact, work the same way. You must choose a place (or places!) to live. Choose a place that does not make you miserable now, but also not one that destroys your future by draining your investments. Neither value should be negative. It’s fine to be frugal now in exchange for more later, and it’s fine to expend a little more now in exchange for a more frugal retirement – but never to the extreme of reducing one or the other to ruin. Don’t live in a cardboard box just to save more for retirement, and don’t mortgage your entire future for the penthouse that’s above your means.
Choose jobs that both don’t make you miserable now, and create resources (not just money!) for you to use in the future – resources like skills, networks, portfolios.
Choose friends and partners that are fun to be with now, and who have the values that will make them durable in your life.
When we get burned by something or regret a decision, we often swing the maximum way to the other side, when in actuality we should adjust by perhaps 5% (or even perhaps not at all). So if we make a friend that’s a ton of fun and makes every day an adventure but who then recklessly harms us in some way before vanishing, we may think “It’s foolish to value the present when choosing friends; I should only be friends with the most boring, tiresome and even frustrating people as long as I think they’ll be reliable companions and allies in the future.” Or maybe you spent a long time being overly frugal, saving for your retirement but avoiding living your life, and suddenly you have a personal crisis and decide “The future is uncertain! I should spend it all now while my heart still beats!” Both of these are overreactions – the proper response to the harm of one extreme is not the other extreme. It’s the balance.
You are always two people (at least). But really, that’s incorrect – because those two people are not distinct. The proper way to view it is that you are always the transition between two people. You are always in transition between the person you are and the person you will be. You are never fully one or the other. It’s a permanent transition – you live on that bridge, one way or another, and so you must know that both sides remain secure.
There is only one moment when the transition ceases, when your existence becomes static. One final time when you fully get to the other side of the bridge. I am in no rush to die, but even when I do, I hope to stay by these principles. I hope to have a death that does not make me fearful, miserable, or lonely. And I hope that in some way it serves a future that I want – one where my children live better lives in a better world.