ARE YOU LIVING A HAPPENING?

19 Dec

ARE YOU LIVING A HAPPENING?

One of the most powerful themes of the self-help movement is the joy of living in the moment. If we obsess about the future – or even worse, the past – then we will probably miss the pleasures and possibilities of the present. Seneca put it well: “The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon tomorrow and wastes today.”

It is certainly a danger, and can be seen most vividly in the compulsion felt by some of society’s most talented people to become a big success. Seneca also said, “While all excesses are in a way hurtful, the most dangerous is an unlimited good fortune.”

So, is planning for the future harmful? – In Praise of Strategy

To ask the question is to answer it. No, of course not! If our forebears had not planned for a better future through deliberate striving, and through the exercise of creativity, we would not have the affluence enjoyed today. We would still be skulking around in our caves, stumbling around in the dark, subject to famine and attacks by wild animals. Without abstract thought, without science, and without the discipline of the mind, we would never have arrived at the inventions and conceptual breakthroughs that have transformed and hugely enriched human life. Without the accumulation of capital – deferring gratification for a better future – we would never have had the industrial revolution. Without planning for the future, it would never have arrived.

In short, we need a strategy. We need a roadmap of the possible routes our lives – and our careers and our organizations – could take. We need to fashion a route that might work and is worth putting effort behind. If it doesn’t work, we need to modify the strategy in accordance with the feedback we’ve received from “the market” – other humans. We need to be opportunistic as well – but unless we are looking for opportunities, for ways of making the future better than the present, we are unlikely to make much of a dent in reality.

So, was Seneca wrong? Are the self-help writer’s fools? Is the emphasis on the present moment just another of the “New Age” nostrums that sound and feel nice, but when examined, when subjected to just a modicum of intellectual rigor, collapse like a house of cards?

No, I don’t think that’s right either. If we examine our lives and look into our past and our personality, it’s likely that we will see times when we have been, and still are missing out on what is happening around us. Now, because we are preoccupied with some future objective. Planning can definitely go too far. Warren Buffett famously compared obsessing about one’s resumé (CV) to saving up sex for one’s old age. There really is a place for smelling the roses and all the other awful clichés. As someone said, ultimately our lives comprise the days we spend, and how we spend them defines what we do with our lives. So where does that get us? Is it impossible to live in the moment and also the scheme for a better tomorrow?

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