I was talking to friend recently, someone who is still in his early 20s, about general life stuff and was surprised when he said something about life absolutely sucking for him now, ie two jobs pasted together to pay his rent, neither in his field (mechanical engineering/physics), taking classes, in general being exhausted pretty much all the time and feeling really crappy. How he was looking forward to his life, not now, but in 5 years or so when the dust has settled and life is "as it's supposed to be". I had this weird glimpse of myself at 24, and while I've always tried living very much and being happy in the moment, I still understood that feeling a little.
When I was 24 I was still in round one of grad school and absolutely terrified of my own future. I was beginning to suspect that after years of assuming I did and pursuing that path, that maybe I didn't want to teach after all. That maybe I wanted to focus more on writing itself than teaching others endlessly how to do it. That was the year of the great meltdown that had me sitting in my apartment crying in the dark. That had me sort of free falling, filling out Ph.d applications with one hand reluctantly and scribbling poems frenetically with the other. My emotions around that time are inextricably tied to the tiny studio apartment I was living in at the time. To the huge amounts of debt I was accruing both in loans and living off my credit cards. And while it was actually a really important time for my development as a writer (as would be the next 3 or 4 years) and I did enjoy my grad lit classes, I don't think I would want to relive it with all that angstyness and uncertainly looming over my future.
And of course, there were a couple roadblocks (my job-hunting difficulties post MA, moving back to my hometown in a misguided desire for a bigger apartment, having to move back in with my folks nevertheless) but everything did pretty much work out in 5 years or so, untying itself like a knot--moving back to the city, getting my job in the library, beginning to send work out and publish books and found lit mags, presses, etc. By the time I was 29, I was far more certain of myself and my choices. Things weren't all that much different on the surface--I was still sort of poor (always probably will be), actually beginning another grad program, still struggling with writing and getting work out there. Of course, looking back, that itself was all nearly 10 years ago or so, I've probably learned a bit more in the intervening years and settled even more comfortably into my life and skin.
However, at the same time, I was a little sad for my friend, and for the other people I know who are always so very fixed on the future that they don't truly live in the present or seek happiness there in lieu of saving it up for later on. My logic is usually enjoy today b/c you might get hit by a bus tomorrow. But everyone always seems to be on some quest for what lies down the road--a better job, a better apartment/house, financial stability, losing twenty pounds, publishing that all important first book, getting tenure, marriage, children, retirement. Sure I think we're all willing to make sacrifices for future benefits, but I don't think I could do it if it impeded my present happiness too much. Or to be so fixed on the future that I found myself trapped in the present. I've found if you lay back and enjoy the present, opportunity usually comes along quite nicely when it needs to. I guess, I've been musing over this because one of my resolutions is always to live in the moment more, which in the chaos, is sometimes hard in the short term, but when it comes to the long term, even more difficult.