By Phil Nguyen, City Year AmeriCorps Member on the Parker-Varney Elementary School Team
Right before graduating from college, I asked a dear professor of mine for life advice regarding the future.
I was stressing out over what I was going to do next in my life as I stumbled into his office with a despaired expression of existential angst on my face. Despite having a full-time job secured, my mind was not freed from its own prison. The job only seemed like a temporary solution to a larger problem; I had just spent the last 17 years of my life in formal education and now, it was up to me to decide who I would become and where I would go for the rest of my life. Does anyone create syllabuses for life?
He chuckled and told me, “Let go of the future and focus on what you can do today. If you want to do something great; if you have big dreams; if you want to create a better world for the next generation of children, the most important thing you can do is to start with making the most of right now - prioritize and act on the present moment, worry less about the future, and have a little bit of faith. School’s a bit too comfortable don’t you think? The real learning starts when you get uncomfortable and act regardless of the uncertainty in the world. Embrace it and do your best!”
I found my professor’s words of wisdom to be a bit too platonic for my taste. It took a lot of time and introspection to figure out what he really meant, but I finally understand now. In retrospect, what he said was very simple and actionable: in order to make a better tomorrow, you must make the most of today.
I’m 100% certain that life is uncertain. We can’t control what will happen in the future. Tomorrow, despite the low probability of it actually happening, the sun may explode and take us with it. Our loved ones may get diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. We could get fired from our job. Our students may have the best day they’ve ever had today and still have their worst the next.
And that’s ok; uncertainty is a normal part of life. The truest sign of wisdom is the ability to discern between what is and isn’t in our control and acting accordingly. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying at all because the future is unpredictable. Rather, by polarizing what is and isn’t in our control, we are able to focus and refine our efforts on what really matters, thus increasing the positive impact we can make in the world.
Something I’m certain of about our work at City Year: We will get angry and sad. There will be moments of bliss and happiness - I’m almost certain there will be tears involved. Our kids will be the bane of our existence, but they will also be the reason for our greatest joys and breakthroughs. We can choose to either accept the challenge with a stoic resolve to better ourselves and the world around us or, we can choose to dread the start of another cold, meager day. How you choose to act in this moment is the best determinant and predictor of the future’s outcome.
How I personally make the most of each and every day is by taking care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I exercise every day and eat healthy foods. I meditate and often take long walks to reflect on my day. I read every night and annotate my books. I make sure to try something new each day. I talk to the loved ones in my life daily. I write a down a few things I'm grateful for every night. Getting enough sleep is pivotal. I can't stress enough how important sleep is! And perhaps most importantly, I approach the next day with fresh eyes. I think we should add to our readiness checks "a mind and body ready to serve."
If you want to make a better tomorrow, start with today, with this moment. The choice is, and always will be, in your hands.
Read the second of our four part series: My Red Jacket Dedication: Inspiration to Follow in My Parents' Footsteps