Today, I want to talk to you about how your future is destroying your ability to make decisions in the present.
… Just saying those words fucks me up a little bit, so I just want to take a moment to say it again so we are both clear on the topic today.
Your future is destroying your ability to make decisions today.
Once upon a time, there was a girl. That girl was me. I had a job that wasn’t terrible, but over time it drove me into the ground. I didn’t feel like myself there. I didn’t feel respected by my boss, improvements that I knew were possible were ignored, I could go on and on but if you’re listening to this podcast, you know what it’s like to work somewhere where you don’t feel seen.
I knew that something needed to change. And one day while I was at an acupuncture appointment, my acupuncturist said to me, “Why don’t you quit?”
Panic welled up inside me. It was subtle, but it was panic. As my heart settled into its new home in my throat, I said, “I can’t quit.”
“Why not?” He asked me.
“Because!” I exclaimed. And then, I launched into the list of reasons that of course, I had to stay in my job.
I would never be able to afford the mortgage without this job. Nobody would hire me because my experience is too specific to this company. I wouldn’t have any references. I don’t have enough money saved. On and on I went with reason after reason that my future was fucked if I quit my job.
He paused. He looked at me with a small smirk that I now recognize as, “Oh, Sonja.” and he said, “Have you called the bank?”
I sat there, completely confused. Normally at this point, people will tell you, this job is no good for you, it’s hurting you, leave, blah blah blah. But the bank? What is the bank have to do with any of this? Why would I call the bank?
Thankfully, he continued.
“Do you know what options are available for your mortgage. Have you applied to other jobs, and do you know that no one would hire you. Do you have any evidence to support the reasons you can’t quit?”
Of course, I didn’t.
My fear about what would happen in the future, how much worse it might get, it was driving me to stay exactly where I was. It was keeping me frozen in a place that was unhealthy, in exchange for staying away from a potentially scary future.
So, here’s the thing. Your brain, specifically the amygdala, is in charge of keeping you safe. That’s been the amygdala’s job for a very long time. Uncertainty is very scary. An unknown animal, and unknown human, and unknown darkness in the forest. An unknown sound that you don’t recognize.
All of these things warrant staying alert. Heightening your reaction time. Strengthening your awareness. This is fear’s job.
And yet, your brain also loves to dream about the future. To imagine what could be. To plan, to chart a course, to try new things and explore new work, new cities, new relationships. If you think about it, and if you never explored new things … would you still be hanging out with the same people from high school? From grade school? Sitting in your childhood room playing with a binky?
Humans are constant explorers.
Your amygdala registers this future possibility as terrifying uncertainty. It misinterprets it as an uncertainty that’s a threat Right Now. And your amygdala is not the sharpest crayon in the box. Uncertainty is uncertainty is uncertainty. Your amygdala is going to freak the fuck out, regardless of how unlikely a future scenario is.
And for whatever fucked-up reason, your brain would rather remain in a place that is hurting you, where your surroundings are known, than to venture out into the unknown.
If you think about how often this happens, it’s everywhere. I’ve even done this in the shower. You know the style of shampoo bottle where the cap is on the bottom, and it collects water if it sits in the path of the shower water. I will flip that sucker over and drain it out on purpose, undoubtedly hitting myself with this super cold cap water, in order to avoid the possibility that I might accidentally squirt this cold water on myself while I’m trying to get shampoo out. My brain says that it is better to accept a known discomfort, then to risk an unknown discomfort that may not even happen.
All of the things I was afraid of if I left my job never happened.
After that job, I was hired again, very quickly in fact. I did have references, and I didn’t need them. I did not lose my house, and I didn’t have to call the bank.
Here’s the rub. The future that I thought was safe, wasn’t. I was let go through a reduction in force at a company that overtime has been trimming it’s ranks. I was so sure that staying in a space that was hurting me was the safe choice, and yet not a single assumption that I made about my future happened. The safe, expected future didn’t happen. And the unsafe, possible future didn’t happen.
You don’t know your future. Don’t let your assumptions about what will or could happen impact the decisions you make for yourself today.
If your future was completely unknown — and it is — what decisions would you make right now?
If you would like help figuring out where to go with your life next, I have just released my services page for 2020. Feel free to go check it out at sonjathegrey.com/services. I do have openings for a limited number of new monthly clients, as well as other one-time options available.
That’s it for me today, if there’s anyone you know who might benefit from this episode, please send it their way.
I hope you are doing well. Until next time,