Knowing Your Future
”Would you like to know your future? If your answer is yes, think again. Not knowing is the greatest life motivator. So enjoy, endure, survive each moment as it comes to you in its proper sequence — a surprise.” -Vera Nazarian
The movie Big Fish has a very important scene in it. It is one that has changed my thinking on the future. Here it is:
Given the chance, would you want to know how you were going to die? I wouldn’t. I used to think the opposite. In fact, I grew up convinced that I would never die.
When I was young, my Mother would tell me to expect the return of Christ. He was going to, “…come like a thief in the night.” She told me. She was so convinced that we were in the end times that she constantly asked me to expect it. It was a fearful existence. I would lie in bed, every night, wondering if I was good enough to go to heaven, or if instead, I would have to live through the Tribulation just long enough to be cast into a lake of eternal fire. It was an idyllic childhood.
I grew up to realize that this was a terrible way to live my life. And when I came to that realization, I wondered on many occasions, if given the chance, would I want to know how I was going to die.
On one hand, it would force me to really live out every moment. On the other hand, I would probably just wait for it to happen, knowing that I couldn’t do anything to change it.
In Big Fish, Edward Bloom is excited by the knowledge, his friends are not. You see, Edward got to see a long and happy life with a grand ending, his friends didn’t. But I don’t think that our fate is a very good motivator, mostly because I don’t believe in fate.
“Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.” –The Information Philosopher
We have so much power to change the direction of our lives. We have so many choices to make every single day. It is impossible for me to believe that every one of those choices is pre-determined by God, the Universe, or whatever. What fun would that be? It would be like knowing the ending to every book or movie ever made. Would they be worth watching? No. The creativity inherent in our existence leads me to believe that whoever or however we were created operates under a similar objective: Existence is a movie with an unwritten and unknowable ending.
The point of life then, in my opinion, is to make an entertaining and inspiring story.
Story as Structure
Stories are powerful things. Unfortunately, the stories we tell ourselves or often not the stories were living out. We are, after all, the stories that we tell ourselves. So we better make them good ones.
The thing about a good story is, the protagonist moves the action forward him or herself—often with the assistance of supporting characters. In a good story the main character changes. He or she comes to grips with his or her limitations and the obstacles in his or her way and overcomes them to become something he or she wasn’t at the beginning of the story. It’s the same way with life.
Successful people create their own stories. Well they may get help along the way, it is up to them to move the action forward. No good book or movie is about a protagonist that is constantly forced forward by fate—although the Universe often pushes them in one direction or another. It is up to them and only them to become something that they weren’t before.
If we look at stories we can see the human condition. This is where writers get it right. They show us that action begets change. Action is the only worthwhile endeavor for the protagonist. Expecting help, or some massive turn of fate, to change your life is a terrible idea. If you want to better life you have to make one.
That being said, the universe has a very interesting way of sending help when we take action. Just like a wizard that shows up and teaches a boy wizard how to fight evil, the universe will put people and things in our lives to help us when we take action. If Harry Potter had never left his aunt and uncle’s home and gone to Hogwarts he never would’ve become the one who lived. Eventually, he would’ve been forgotten unchanged and a really terrible story.
Writing Your Story
I’m willing to bet that you were reading this because your life is not what you have envisioned. So what do you envision? What does the life that you want look like, exactly? Take a few moments now or even a few hours or even a few days and write out specifically what your vision for a filling life looks like.
Don’t settle for something simple like I want to be rich or I want to be happy. You have to get specific. Very specific. You have to envision every facet of the life that you want. List out the details. Where do you live? What do you do with your day? Who is with you on this journey? Where is it happening?
If you don’t get specific you’ll never have a good story. The devil is in the details, as they say.
Once you’ve determined exactly what you want your life to look like you need to take stock of where exactly you are in the story. Change only comes to a protagonist when they understand where they are and then change to being where they want to be who they want to be what they want to be.
Once you know where you are and where you want to be the rest is the story that you need to write. It’s also the story that you need to tell yourself. No one can plan for every eventuality. Neither can the protagonist in the story. You have to be able to adapt as things come at you. But this is much easier to do when you understand where you’re going. When you understand the end goal it is much easier to write your story as you live it.
Yesterday, I was listening to the Tim Ferriss Show. In this interview with Terry Crews, the two talk about Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. They also talk about The Master Key System by Charles F. Hannel. In the interview, Terry Crews tells a story about realizing that in order to be what you want to be, you need to do what that type of person does. I can’t do it justice here. Please take a listen to the interview. I’ll think you’ll find it very interesting.
If You’ve Never Been a Writer
Let me let you in on the writer secret. No writer ever knows the story before they write it. It takes several drafts before story becomes believable. Life is no different. It’s all a first draft. And every time an obstacle gets in our way we’re forced to rewrite parts of our story and then determine how to overcome that obstacle and get to the place where we want to be.
Likewise, there’s no way you can write your story from desk or table. You have to get out there and live it and write it as it comes. You’ll have to make adjustments, you’ll have to change plot points, you’ll have to figure out how the story continues to move forward even when there seemingly no way to figure out how to do so.
With every twist and turn or unseen obstacle, you, as the protagonist must adapt and overcome. Every time, you need to write the next action, as you take it, without ever losing sight of the ending that you had planned. This is what an exit strategy really is. It’s a planned ending but the story between where you are now how you get there is yours to write with every obstacle and every action.
What will your story be?
This post is something I’m actively working on. Rewriting our stories takes a lot of time and energy. It can be overwhelming at times. One of the things that I KNOW, is that doing it alone is a surefire way to burn out. Please find someone that is honest and that you can trust to help you on this path. A therapist or counselor is a great option. If you have any resources that have helped you in this process, please share them in the comments. I would love to see what has worked–or is working–for you.