20 Years and a Couple Beers: Why the Long View Matters

14 Mar

A few weeks before leaving town for college, I ran into a childhood buddy at a local hangout. We chatted about packing up for school, his plans to play college football, my plans for continued athletic mediocrity.

Then he noticed a guy a year or two older than us hitting on his girlfriend. “I already told him to back off!” he grumbled. “I gotta get over there and take care of that,” he said. “Do what you need to do,” I told him, enormously jealous that he even had a girlfriend, not to mention that he was big enough to throw the guy across the street.  We said goodbye – and were completely out of touch for the next 20 years. And I mean completely. Not even a single Facebook birthday greeting was ever exchanged.

Just a few months ago, we got together at a bar in our hometown. By the end of the night, after a couple hours and a couple beers, I felt like I’d stepped straight into Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” I’d lived hundreds of miles away for years, and, with the exception of two or three friends, I’d been out of touch with everybody. So it was fascinating to get caught up on our classmates after two decades.

Several of these tales were uplifting. Some had found deep meaning in their work. Many had been blessed with great families. Lots of them, it seemed, had grown into really admirable people. But not everybody. There were also some rather stunning stories of broken marriages, ruined friendships, alcoholism and lives on the way to being wasted.

I knew all of these people to some extent. If I had to pick one reason why some lives went well and others went off the tracks, it would be this: an ability to take the long view. Almost without exception, the people with satisfying lives had an ability, even back in high school, to think a few steps ahead. So even as they were partying or wasting time in somebody’s basement, they were also forming a vision for their lives and, at least occasionally, taking steps toward realizing it. Those with troubled lives, meanwhile, generally lived out the title of a favorite book of mine – If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else by David Campbell.  These folks, back in high school, acted like there was nothing beyond high school. They were totally swept up in the present moment and couldn’t see that circumstances would change and they needed to get ready for that. Unfortunately, they carried that same approach into their adult years – and it didn’t lead to choices that worked out well over the long term.

It’s a lesson worth remembering regardless of your age. For people with young families, for example, there’s not a lot of time to think about a vision of the future. It’s hard enough, most of the time, to get from one day to the next. But it’s also crucial to step back, even briefly amid the nonstop chatter and spilled drinks, and think: Hey, this feels all-consuming now, but the kids won’t be this age forever. What kind of people do I want them to be, and what can I do about that now while they’re still semi-listening to me? It’s the art of the long view, and it’s definitely not easy, which is why we’re never too young or too old to practice it.

 

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4 Responses to “20 Years and a Couple Beers: Why the Long View Matters”

  1. Hiten March 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi Stephen,

    This was a really good post on the importance of taking the long view. It reminded me of a bunch of guys I used to hang around with when I was teenager. I had to completely leave this group of people because they were living totally for the present with no sense of creating a good future for themselves.

    • admin March 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Hi Hiten — thanks for stopping by. Sounds like you made a smart decision to separate yourself from that group. Writing this post also reminded me of something else that I’ll explore later on: the paradox of taking the long view is that I sometimes do it at the expense of being mindful in the present moment. It’s definitely a tricky balancing act.

  2. Lori Gosselin March 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Stephen,
    It seems when we’re young we are “were totally swept up in the present moment ” when we need to be looking ahead and now we are living everywhere but in the present moment and trying to find it again! Seems we need to look both ways. But how can you teach young kids that? And how do we learn it ourselves? Those are the challenging questions for young parents, and everyone else!
    Lori

    • admin March 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      That’s an excellent point, Lori. I just mentioned to Hiten in a previous comment that being mindful in the present moment is a bigger challenge for me these days than taking the long view. Have you been able to strike a balance between the two? And, if so, how?

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