August 6, 2014

Dark cloud or bright balloon – the future is how you look at it

It’s natural for the uncertainty of the future, combined with pressure to get into college and have a satisfying career, to sometimes worry a teen. But it could help to picture the future not as a dark, ominous cloud, but a brightly colored balloon going where the wind takes it, but always heading upward.

In a society where teenagers are proclaimed by Time magazine as being “lazy, entitled narcissists,” we sure place a lot of pressure on ourselves. The expectations to get accepted into a stellar college and excel in life are higher than ever, with colleges decreasing their acceptance rates and increasing enrollment fees.

“It brings up a lot of stress for me,” says Alexa Ruiz, a junior at Gregori High School. “Without college … everything I’ve worked for won’t really matter.”

It’s not just the booming competition that makes teenagers anxious. More often than not, the uncertainty of the future is the greater trigger of their worries.

“Not knowing the future takes away the power of control that I think I should have,” Alexa says. “Uncertainty can be the difference between a future I have planned and something I wasn’t ready for at all. It’s like taking away something I’ve worked for for my whole life.”

And it is, isn’t it? Our whole lives, we are told to prepare for the future. We are encouraged to get good grades to get into a good college so we can get a good job. We’ve grown up well aware of the poor economy and high unemployment. And we know it’s extremely difficult to find a substantial job, even with a college degree.

“The aspect of potentially graduating college and not being able to find a job is very nerve-wracking,” says Chris Seng, a junior at Beyer High.

And it’s not just those in high school who worry about their future.

Brad Wilkerson, a sophomore at California State University, Stanislaus, shares his thoughts about post-college plans: “I’m anxious especially for the future. I think of what I’m going to do for a job … where I’m going to live, what exactly I’m going to do, and the grades (I need) to graduate so I can do whatever it is I choose to do.”

I sometimes picture the future as a dark, ominous cloud: mysterious, untrustworthy, frightening. Imagining my “ideal future,” I can get scared things won’t work out and my life will be a failure. Do we all do that? Isn’t there a part of you that’s scared by the uncertainty of the future?

But I had something short of an epiphany recently. Let me use this metaphor as an example:

Instead of a dark, antagonizing cloud, the future is more of a helium balloon – your destiny floating along with many others in the sky. You cannot control a balloon; sure, you can tie it down or block its path, but its design is to head straight up. Force it around too much and you risk popping it.

You cannot predict the balloon’s ending destination, as the wind is an outside force you can’t control. There is no point worrying about where it came from or where it will end up. Eventually, you will learn you just have to leave the balloon alone as you watch it float up into the sky.

How does this connect back? Your future cannot be manipulated to an exact location, because there will be outside factors you can’t control no matter how hard you try. If you worry too much, you risk “popping” the experience of life and not enjoying it as it is.

You can’t dwell on your past or future, so you must simply live in the little capsule of the moment. In life, sometimes all you can do is ride it out, floating up and up and seeing where it takes you.

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