At an early age, we take bits and pieces from movies, television, and our immediate surroundings to start forming our “ideal future world”. When we’re young, life’s not too complicated. We know what we like, we know what we don’t like and that’s that. We don’t factor in the “what if’s”, pay attention to any of those silly things called “details”, or assume major obstacles will block us from our success. Becoming a professional princess is still in the realm of possibilities.
Now imagine that middle school to early high school age. (Are you feeling kind of awkward? Samesies.) We are developing hobbies, interests, and trying to build and maintain all sorts of relationships. At the same time, schools are preparing us to start thinking about our futures in a more real and career-oriented way. In years past, the possibilities seemed endless. Doctor! Lawyer! Teacher! Police officer! Astronaut! We thought we could have been all of those things at once but now we realize there are details to consider. Simultaneously, we might be experiencing heartache and heartbreak, successes and failures, and all for the first time. Previously, our “ideal future world” consisted of certain truths and images we hoped for and expected whether they were reasonable or not. Now, we begin emotionally and/or logically captioning them, making them a bit more concrete.
Our high school and college years fly by and all of a sudden, we’re here. Those hopes and dreams we collected and kept safely stored in our “ideal future world” should be unraveling now. Why aren’t they?
“Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be ‘X’.” “My plan has always been to get married by 27 and start having children by 28.” “I chose this job because I would make a lot of money and not face financial hardships like my family did growing up.” “I thought it would all work out.” A lot of the time, similar statements reside in our “ideal future world”. We instilled these ideas and dreams in our minds for so long that they seem almost permanently embedded.
So what happens when what we always hoped and assumed would happen doesn’t? We bitterly evaluate. We wonder how we got here because frankly, “it wasn’t supposed to be this way”. We trace our lives backwards to pinpoint where we must have done something wrong. We pick apart relationships that ended poorly because maybe we were the cause for the split. We overanalyze all of these unchangeable life events to come up with some answer that won’t ultimately satisfy us. We are unhappy because we did not achieve what we always thought we would.
The question that most people seem to forget to ask themselves is, “Well, WHY is this certain thing so important?” Most of the time, it’s difficult to look past the length of time we’ve held onto certain hopes and dreams. They became part of us and understandably, our ego is bruised and it’s hard to accept that things didn’t turn out how we pictured it. Although all of our personal “ideal future worlds” may be very different, one thing remains the same. Our goal, our one underlying hope, was to simply be happy. Over time, we learned and associated certain ideas with happiness. On some level, we thought having a particular job would make us happy, that getting married at a certain age would make us happy, etc. Through time, we unknowingly buried the real reason we wanted these things in the first place.
If we reframe our thoughts about our “ideal future world”, we might find that the unhappiness we experience from not achieving those hopes and dreams actually cloud our present happiness about everything else. Why should we jeopardize our current and future happiness by continuing to live in Ideal Future World, Version 1.0? We have the power to reshape and create something, something better. What’s stopping us?
Jessica Ha is a counselor and a freshman advisor at Florida Tech