Back when I was an angst-ridden teenager I was absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the world was going to end sooner rather than later. Either pollution would kill us all, or some sort of catastrophe would wipe the Earth clean, or it would all go down in some way relating to the two wars we were engaged in at the time.
Flash forward five years and I had become a semi-apathetic early-twenty-something. The world was still going to end. We were still fighting two wars. Pollution could still kill us all, only suddenly we began calling it “climate change”. I had also more-or-less added the potentiality of aliens to the equation at that point.
During that period, I didn’t really care. Like many college students, I was living a pretty raucous lifestyle. I was sure that the world would end, but I was equally sure that I wouldn’t be there to see it. I would drown in my own vomit within a few years if things went bad, or I would die in a spectacular motorcycle-related explosion if I got lucky. It may sound rather dismal, but I was having a pretty good time.
And that was all that mattered back then: Enjoying myself, cursed be the consequences. If the world was going to end or I was just going to go down in a blaze of inglory, why concern myself with building a future?
Suddenly my early-twenties became my mid-twenties, and it was beginning to look as if the world was never going to end. People around me were getting real jobs. They were developing long-term relationships and some of them were even having children as I clung to the last bastions of hope that a zombie apocalypse would descend and finally I would have something more pressing to worry about than my disastrous credit score.
As it turned out, neither I nor the world ended, and it began to seem like I would have to start considering what to do with the rest of my time on Earth. Shit, what a bummer.
After spending several months considering a wide-range of impractical career options (newspaper reporter: extinct; bar manager: tedious; military officer: Me? Was I crazy?), it struck me that I could do the unthinkable and try for something that would make me happy. That was four years ago, and today I have a rapidly blooming career as a freelance writer, a lot more sense of responsibility, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
When Disaster Doesn’t Strike
I know that there are a lot more people out there who, like me, spent their formative years desperately hoping that the zombies or something along those lines would pop out of nowhere and eliminate our need to build a future for ourselves. And there isn’t any age limit to that mindset. There are people out there who are fifty and they’re still trying to get their lives off the ground. And there are eighteen-year-old kids who are just emerging into the world and they’re trying to figure out how they can best get started.
Here are a few things you can do to build a future when the worst comes to pass and the world doesn’t end:
- Consider your present situation.
So the time has come to look forward: start by looking at how things stand as they are now. Which aspects of your life are restraining you from building a quality future and doing the things you’ve always dreamed of? Which aspects will be useful in helping you move forward? This could involve asking yourself questions about where you live, how much education you have, who you spend time around, how you spend your money, and so forth.
- Think about your passions and talents.
Do you have lifelong dreams that have gone unfulfilled? Or is there some particular career path that attracts you above all else? What is it that you would do every day if you had the chance? How does the life your living now differ from the life you wish you had?
- Decide to make changes, then follow them up.
Once you have come to realize the deviation between the life you currently live and the life you want to, it is time to make actionable decisions about how you can shift your path toward meeting your goals. Maybe that means moving to a place where you’ll have more opportunity, or separating yourself from people who are negative influences, or going back to school. Remember that there is a difference between recognizing changes that need to be made and actually making them happen.
- Seek guidance from those who have been there.
There are other people who are already acting out your dream, and most of them had to go through a number of hardships to do it. By talking to people who have been-there-and-done-that, you have a chance to find shortcuts and avoid missteps.
There is usually more than one route to any given destination, and not everyone needs to use the same roadmap. What others have done before may not work for you, or you might innovate new ways of achieving your goals that will bring you through important experiences or set you apart from the pack. Remember—a leader is someone who doesn’t follow the herd. They forge new trails.
- Recognize and seize opportunities.
Most people come across incredible opportunities all the time, they just don’t recognize them. Or if they do, they don’t take advantage of them. Don’t let key opportunities pass you by.
If I have one final piece of advice on this subject, it’s this: Be brave and don’t lose your nerve.
It’s scary building something new, especially when it’s something as important and seemingly delicate as your future. Sometimes it feels like a house of cards that can be toppled by the smallest breeze, yet you stand firm and the cards don’t tumble. At other times it seems like an impenetrable fortress, and it’s just when you’re feeling like king of the castle that something comes and smashes the whole thing to bits. In moments like that, your backbone might be all that’s there to support you.
So the world isn’t ending. It may be wheezing out a whole lot of death throes, but it’s been doing that for a long time: ask the Cold War era Boomers.
If the worst comes to pass and the world doesn’t end, I guess you’ll just have to pick yourself up and make the best of a bad situation. You’d be surprised at how good things might turn out.