By Maha Rauf
“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” Looking for Alaska, John Green
As a child, I always envisioned that adulthood would be an idealised, Edenic state, full of opportunity and boundless potential. I thought that my future would be a time of unchecked freedom and limitless possibility.
I think this is pretty universal. Most kids believe that growing up comes with more prospects and freedom and it does because we gain independence, mobility, and awareness about the world and all that we can do within it.
But it also comes with much, much more responsibility and much greater problems.
I used to think that growing up and becoming an adult would solve all my childhood quandaries; I believed that I would be able to move through the world freely, uninhibited, without any restrictions and with no accountability. I thought I would be able to go wherever I wanted, buy whatever I wanted with no repercussions financially, because in my idyllic future, I would have a great job, that I loved and that paid me obscenely well. I would be living an incredibly meaningful life and would have met people that somehow managed to pull my world into a different orbit. I would believe in myself wholly, believe that I was cut out for important things and have worthy struggles, and life-sized ideals. I would live in a tastefully decorated house and I would have acquired all the qualities I admired and sought when I was young: confidence, independence, certitude.
And imagining this idyllic future kept me going.
It still keeps me going.
Now, as an adult, addled with responsibility, I look back at when I was a child, and had the comforting sense of continuity and security before you grow up and plunge into the big world with its real miseries and I marvel at my naivety.
Yet, I still continue to do this. I still cling to the future as some sort of saviour, some cosmic force capable of righting all wrongs. I keep thinking of my future, a few years down the line, maybe when I am finishing up my degree or when I am doing my masters or when I am working full time and am financially independent or when I am married with kids or when I am retired and old, as an idyllic fantasy that is far better than my life at the present moment.
I consistently use my future to escape the present. It’s a human tendency, I suppose.
And sometimes it can be a good thing. It may fuel our motivation to achieve certain long-term goals we’ve set for ourselves; the belief in a better future may be our only consolation during a hard time and it may lend us a sense of purpose.
But it can also be a dangerous illusion.
Believing that your real life has not yet begun, that your present existence is just a mere prelude to some perfect future, is extremely damaging. Our belief in ‘escaping the labyrinth’ can dominate our worldview, growing wider and wider, so big that it turns into a mantle that canopies our life, hiding our mistakes, regrets, missed opportunities, forsaken dreams, fractured relationships, anything and everything we wish would disappear.
But this idyll is a mirage that will fade as we approach, revealing that the prelude we rush and hurry through, is, in fact, the one to our death.
We all romanticise the future, and that’s okay because all human pursuit needs something to look forward to. But we must, at some point, stop viewing the world through the prism of an idyllic future because, inevitably, that perfect vision in our minds will dissolve as quickly as a drop of ink in water.