Zack Vayda and Andy Bernard
"I wish there was a way to know you're in the 'good old days' before you've actually left them."
- Andy Bernard
I spend a lot of my time looking to my future. Where do I want to be this time next year, who do I want to be with, what job do I want to have, how many dozens of dogs can I expect to have by then, etc. Because of this, I often see my current situation as less than satisfactory. And yet, somehow, I still look back at past chapters of my life that were less than satisfactory in a surprisingly pleasant and fond light.
Two years ago at this time I was living in an apartment wth little to no natural light that was directly beside a noisy highway. I was working a job I hated, I was overweight and I had no motivation whatsoever. It was what I would consider one of the worst years of my life, and I couldn't wait to get out of it.
When I look back on that year now, though, I remember much more. I remember that I had a room and bathroom completely to myself, I remember some coworkers I had that I thoroughly enjoyed, I was rooming with two of my best friends, we had an enjoyable (but altogether unsuccessful) band, and we had many of our friends from college come visit us on long weekends.
One year ago at this time, I was unemployed and living out of a converted shed in my parents backyard. I was two hours away from any of my friends with no car to go visit them, and I had to work part time at Subway to have money to pay my student loans. It was a very low point in my life, and every bit of me desperately desired to be at the next stage of my life.
When I look back at that time now, though, I see it completely differently. I built the interior of the shed I was living in completely on my own, insulated, carpeted, furnished and it had electricity. I spent many hours having long, important conversations with my parents, I developed a deeper relationship with my two youngest siblings, and I wasn't spending my days putting hours into a job I hated.
As terrible as these times were, there were clearly positive, enjoyable aspects that I couldn't see at the time. Is it truly only possible to see those aspects after the fact? Am I destined to live in a loop of undervaluing my current scenario only to see its value later? Is this just how life is?
It's natural to look to the future and desire more than you have, but it shouldn't be our default thought process. There is value to live in the moment, to appreciate what you have so that you can look back on it later and be happy that you were grateful for it in real time. But the question is how? How do I, someone who has always thought in the future, train myself to think in the present?
This weekend I went home to visit my family. I don't necessarily love the house or the town my family lives in, and I always worry that I'm missing something fun that my friends might be doing. But there will come a time when my parents don't live in that town or in that house, and I know I'll think back on it fondly. Going in to the weekend I asked myself, "What are the things I'm going to remember fondly?" By asking myself this question, I was able to identify the things I knew I was going to remember in a positive light, and that process of identification allowed me to enjoy it in the moment.
I was able to see value in the cream Mom puts on our coffee in the mornings, I was able to appreciate the open living space that promotes connectedness, I was able to enjoy being in a town where the movies theater is within walking distance, and I appreciated the fact that I live close enough to my parents that I can join them for a weekend.
Maybe there's no real way to identify the Good Old Days while you're still in them, but by identifying the things you know you'll look back on fondly, you can enjoy those things before they're a memory.
And isn't that what's most important anyway?