Slipping from the Present

It has now been over a month now since I came back from my big solo backpacking trip and I have firmly adjusted back to living in one place. I like it, I feel like I can work towards my next set of goals from here because it’s a stable platform, instead of when I was bouncing around city to city every few days. However now that I’m planning and executing towards my long term goals, there is something I have realized about myself that scares me a lot: I find myself slipping away from the present again.

When I first got back, I could not stop smiling. For 3 weeks I could not stop smiling. No matter where I was, what I was doing, I just couldn’t stop beaming, because there was so much to be happy about all around me. I loved the sky here in Southern California, it was always so clear and blue and full of nice puffy clouds. I loved how green it was, we had been in a drought for so long and I came back to the tail end of some good rainfall, which blanketed the landscape in green.


I loved the air, the ocean, the trees, the birds chirping in the morning, the butterflies flying around, my family, friends, neighbors, the cashier, the random people I passed on the street, my house, my car, my bed, my toothbrush, my clothes, and all the things around me no matter how big or small. I was so aware of how happy I was to be surrounded by all of these things again. It was like I was a baby just in awe at literally everything around me. I couldn’t help but smile hugely at everybody I passed because I was super present and super happy all the time.

But that state didn’t last forever, and starting just a few days ago, I’ve been frequently catching myself thinking about everything except the present. Thinking about where I want to be in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 2 years, and planning what I need to do to get there. I am still happy but the smiles don’t come as easily as they did a month ago.

A week ago I was taking my sweet time making sandwiches. I started to play around and make faces in them and ended up laughing so hard by myself in the kitchen. An hour later I had made a bunch of different ones and took photos of them all. Living in the present or slightly delusional? You can decide, but it was hilarious.

It’s not a bad thing to stray from the present. I don’t want to be stuck in a delusionally present state at all times. It might be a little difficult for me to plan and execute my long term goals if I’m constantly awestruck by my socks. However I am worried about slipping away from the present completely, because naturally I’m a planner and I can’t help but think about the long term, all the time. So if I’m not consciously careful, I will slip from the present for very long periods of time (weeks or even months) without ever realizing it and end up burning myself out before I reach my goals.

I think it’s a common problem for people who are chasing long term goals: How do you enjoy the present when you know you could be doing something ‘more productive’ towards your future during that time? It makes us unable to truly relax and recharge even when we make time for ourselves. So we end up burning out and getting jaded, unless we can make peace with the fact that we need to be present. Ironically, enjoying the present is a vital skill some of us have to learn in order to reach our long term goals in one piece.

I came up with some thoughts that I hope will help me realize the importance of the present and anchor me down from getting sucked into the future all the time:

  • The present is the future that your past created for you. If there are moments of comfort and goodness, enjoy them, because those are a gift from your past.
  • Learning how to enjoy the present is skill that has to be practiced for some of us, and it’s just as important as learning any other skill vital to your future goals. Because if you never learn to enjoy the present, you are not going to know how to when you reach your goals. Instead you will just find the next thing to plan and worry about, and then your whole life is going to be like that.
  • The present is the only time we live in and if we are living in the future (or the past) all the time, then inevitably we are going to wake up one day and realize that months, years, have gone by without us even realizing it, because we didn’t live in it.

Like pretty much everything, balance is the best position; so what I wrote is most relevant for those of us in a similar position where we feel like we are too heavy on the future and too light on the present.

The banner photo is from a historical site I happened upon near Nanyang, China. It’s a place significant to a famous ancient Chinese general: Zhuge Liang.