Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Present or Future: How Do You Decide?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 27, 2014


Balance is the point, and yet, the struggle to live in the present versus the future is palpable for some. How much do you save for retirement, versus enjoying your money now? How much should a twenty-something enjoy their youth versus setting up a career path? This dilemma, leaving out the glaring issue, of those who live in the past, who do not stay current with today’s culture, can create a clash of values. Classically speaking, parents want their kids to secure a future, whereas young adults often make the present more important. Is this a generational issue, or is forward-thinking a necessary developmental step towards a deeper existence? On the other hand, is living in the present a skill which too many ambitious people lack? Is it admirable to enjoy life, even if the future seems precarious? Samantha, thirty-five, comes to mind. She loves her life. She has nice friends and she works as a nanny, loving the children she sees five days a week. She has no mind for a career, but she is bright and well-educated.  She is financially independent and proud of that. She wants children, but she thinks that “will happen” without much thought that she is not married, and her eggs are ticking. Samantha’s issue? Her dad disapproves of her life. He wants her to have a career, a husband and a baby. Samantha feels dismayed by his disapproval, but not enough to change her life, but enough to enter into psychotherapy. “Maybe you care what your dad thinks, because a part of you agrees with him?” I say, wondering why her dad’s impressions are so important to her. “Well, yes, of course I agree. I know he wants good things for me, but I am happy and why should I change that?” She asks, as if there is no good answer. “Because life is a juggling act between present-day happiness and preparing for a future,” I say, reminding her that forward-thinking is universally beneficial, but too much, like so many things, is detrimental to mental health. “OK, so I am not juggling that right now. I guess I should but I repeat that I like my life and see no reason to change it.” Samantha says ardently. “Well, that would make sense, except you are here with me, because something does not feel right,” trying gently to access her distress, as “I like my life” although true on one level, is also a defense, on another. “Maybe you are scared to think about a future,” I say, understanding that the future could be a very scary and uncertain place in Samantha’s mind, and so she may be avoiding that challenge. “Of course,  I am,” Samantha says, as if it were obvious. “Of course, you say, but I was not sure you were in touch with that feeling,” I say, meaning it was not obvious to me she was aware of feeling that way. Samantha and I are on our way towards exploring her future fears. Her father, probably, has done her some good, by igniting the anxiety associated with paternal disapproval. Our journey has begun.

2 Responses to “Present or Future: How Do You Decide?”

  1. Shelly said

    Perhaps Samantha sees how much “adulthood” weighs on her parents and fights against it? Working, marriage, children, mortgages, etc… come at the price of the freedom of youth and at 35, perhaps Samantha wants to prolong that free age where she doesn’t have to worry about these things. True, 35 is no longer the age of childhood and by this age she definitely should be thinking of her future, but who of us don’t wish we could all chuck the heaviness of being adults into the air and return to being young and carefree? It is good that Samantha is speaking with you about these things as I agree, she needs to find a balance between remaining in childhood (free) and adulthood (planning for the future).

    • Yes, Samantha illustrates the art of living, maintaining a continuity with the past, enjoying the present and planning for the future. Too much emphasis in one department creates a life with anxiety and distress. The reality of time rolling on hits each of us in different ways. The finite aspect of life is the core of the struggle. Uncertainty as to when the end comes for us or our loved ones, creates a challenge of navigation without all the knowledge that would be helpful to make important decisions. If we knew when the endgame was, then we would possibly make different decisions. Since all of us guess as to how life will play out, we have trouble when others vote for a different strategy. On the other hand, realities of needing to plan to set up safety nets for the future can also be helpful down the line. The best solution, from my point of view, is to be as conscious as possible of all of the variables that go into the choices that are made. This understanding will solidify the person so that anxiety will be kept to a minimum. Thanks.

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