So, $100 in your pocket today has a present value of $100. The future value of money shows the benefit of investing and earning interest. If you invest your $100 today, you will earn some amount of interest on it—and the more time passes, the more you will compound that interest. The future value of that $100 will be a larger number.
Imagine, however, that instead of investing your $100 today, you put it in a piggy bank or under your mattress at home. Money that is not invested loses value over time. Rather than benefiting, you are losing money due to inflation. This is the opportunity cost of keeping money rather than investing it.
How does living in the present create greater future value? In this context, it is not money we are talking about, but investing in our present selves. However, the same principles can still apply.
We do not know what the future will bring, and we cannot control the future. However, we do know that we are constantly thinking about it, planning for it, worrying about it, and plotting and scheming about it, so much so that we end up missing out on the present—which is like putting money under the mattress.
Planning for the future is not the problem. The problem is that we are so focused on arriving at some future value that we forget to live and invest in the present. There’s a difference between planning for the future and needless, ineffectual worrying.
What does living and investing in the present mean? It means not occupying your present mind with all the what ifs that serve only to worry, but not to prepare, us. What if my car battery dies before my next paycheck? What if I don’t pass the CFA exam? What if I don’t get into law school? What if I get divorced—who will help me raise my child? What if I leave this job and don’t like my new one? I could spend so much time thinking about all the potentially bad things that could happen that all my serenity, joy, peace, and clear thinking are robbed from my present—which in turn affects my future value.
Does anyone really want that? No. So how can you change it?
The first thing you can do is to push away those negative thoughts and instead pay attention to what is going on right now. Time doesn’t stop, so every moment is important. Really open your eyes and notice what is going on around you. Pause. Listen. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy. Feel your body. Observe. Be.
Have you ever noticed that you get into your car to drive home from work and suddenly you blink and you are home? How did you get there? You don’t even remember the commute. What were you doing? Chances are you were thinking about something that you need to do in the future, or dwelling on things from the past that you can no longer change. All the chores you need to do this weekend, the reservations you need to make for an upcoming business trip, a problem you had with your sister. Whatever the case, you weren’t living in the present, because you missed the entire drive home.
So, what do you get out of being in the now? Quite a lot, actually.
Observation and awareness allow clarity of thought. Clarity of thought can create excellent thinking and decision making, which create compound interest on the efforts you put into experiencing the present moment. Think about that. When I slow down, eliminate distractions (such as my cell phone, emails, music, and even negative thoughts), listen, and observe, I am able to tune into myself, which allows me to get in a quiet state of mind. This, in turn, allows me to find the focus and inspiration that guide me in the right direction.
In a quiet moment, the thought occurred to me, “If I love to write, then I should buy a journal.” “What?” I replied to myself. “Where did that thought come from?!” It was a Saturday morning and the farmers market was open. I went and purchased one of those beautiful hand-made leather journals. I loved it so much that I started to write more. Thoughts just bubbled up and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I found a sense of purpose and triumph; I felt very pleased with myself and I enjoyed it.
A few months later I ran into someone I respect, who suggested I blog or write a book. I began to blog and doors started to open. Had I not paused long enough to listen, relax, breathe, and capture the thought about the journal, I would not have been ready for that next interaction and the next and the next. I created greater future value by being in the present.
Now, let’s take this a step further.
It is not perfection that brings the greatest reward, but rather embracing and navigating the unpredictable in our lives. Navigation means figuring out and directing our course, and that would be easy if everything else remained constant—but it doesn’t, does it? No. Things change around us daily—and guess what? So do we!
Every day brings a new iteration of ourselves—our internal landscape of ever-evolving wants, needs, and desires. Our ideas, values, and baselines for happiness will change all along the way as well.
So, how does embracing and navigating the unpredictable landscape of ourselves create greater future value?
Well, when we start with the premise that we change all the time, we start to see that we should not be attached to a certain future outcome. Why? Because even though that outcome sounds amazing to our present selves, perhaps that certain outcome isn’t what we are going to want or be happy with in our future.
Let’s say I really want a certain position I am interviewing for. I think the job description was written for me. It is right by my house, the salary is great, and I really like the person I would report to; the company is outstanding and I am in the final candidate pool. But then they give it to the other candidate. If I were living in the future and neglecting the present, I could think, “Oh, great! What now? I really needed that money!” I could become upset, and create a drama in my mind about a negative future that may never happen. I could brood over my hurt ego and tell myself that I am a loser and will never amount to anything.
If I were living in the present, however, rather than being dejected, I would nod and smile, and realize that there is something else even more right for me than this opportunity. How do I know? Well, I can prove it by its negative. If I screamed and cried against the injustice of it all, what would I get? Would I get the job after all? Nope. Would I feel better about myself? Nope. I would probably lose my appetite for lunch, be distracted, and get into a car crash on the way home, ruining my best suit and wasting time and money at the repair shop.
Instead, I could be grateful that I learned it wasn’t a good fit before I was stuck in the position. In fact, not getting the position may even be transformative. Not getting the job may cause me to decide to go with my plan B, or something I hadn’t even thought of yet, leading to a richer, more satisfying outcome—one that is better than I could have even imagined.
So, staying in my present, and being OK with uncertainty, will allow me to be happier now, which will allow me to (going back to what we said before) think clearly and make smart, even transformative, decisions, which will accrue greater future value.