What if we lived in the present rather than the future?

More often than ever, we’re talking about getting ready for the future. It’s where everything that’s important seems to happen. It’s that space that we’ve not reached yet, but we’re always planning and equipping ourselves to be ready for it. For example, we hear people say that schools must “prepare young people for the future”. Or that corporate training needs to give employees skills that are “more suitable for the future”.

Maybe it’s happening now, because we’re living in the future of the past. Maybe we don’t feel like we’re prepared enough. So we try to channel our energy into preparing for the next phase, which will be better because we’ll be better prepared. But it’s never the case. When the future becomes the present, we always find ourselves unprepared. So what do we do? We start to look at the future again, hopeful that it will be better because we will have tried harder.

In the meantime, the present slips through our fingers: it flies by without us even noticing. We’re going through life without being aware of it, without paying the present enough attention. We’re convinced that the things we struggle with today are a result of us not having done enough yesterday. But we only live in the present. And when the future finally arrives, and becomes the present…will we be able to recognize it?

It’s a question that came up recently in an Elis workshop, where CEOs or large corporations reflected on their scholastic training. It’s a key institution that helps to design society’s future. Today’s young people will be tomorrow’s adults. When the future arrives, they’ll be the ones to design the present. But what happens when we treat school, which is this generation’s present, as preparation for the future?

Children live in the present. The future doesn’t exist for them, it doesn’t reassure them if we talk about things arriving “tomorrow”. The intensity that they’re looking for and that they feel most engage with concerns today. Are they really so different to the young people that we’re asking to dedicate their present to prepare for the future? How does the concept of investing in life change over time?

I’m always surprised when someone talks to me about their romantic relationship as an investment for the future. I hope that I’m not wasting my time: as though what we “spend” today will benefit us in the future. It’s the idea that the present is serving the future. It’s a bit of a paradox because you can only love someone in the present: it’s impossible to promise that tomorrow will be the same, or that person will love you back in the future.

If we’re always thinking about the future, it has an impact on the way that we live. If we don’t live to maximize our engagement in the moment, we’ll risk sacrificing today’s effectiveness (and maybe happiness) for that of tomorrow. Let’s go back to the school example. How would our perspective change if we prepared young people to live in the present? It’s a complex world right now, a world that’s always changing. It has all the right challenges to train our skills. Skills that will also be useful in tomorrow’s world. If the relationship between school and young people, or the relationship between businesses and their workers, tried to focus on engaging people in the present, what effect would it have?

It would probably be easier to show more of ourselves, to engage, to give and receive more. Less anxiety about tomorrow would help us to make space for all we already are. Maybe that’s a good starting point when building relationships and projects? Maybe we could arrive in the future feeling more familiar and interested in what that moment represents? Or rather our present?

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here