“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”- Chinese Proverb
As a coach, counselor, and educator, I’ve had the privilege of delving into the psyche of hundreds of people over the past 30 years. I’ve learned that almost every one of us needs to think about the power of this simple Chinese proverb now and again. It’s almost universal that once a person leaves school they get this feeling that their life is a race against time. They begin to feel that, as time passes, certain doors close for them. They spend a number of years rationalizing why they didn’t become a lot of the things that they dreamed about being when they were in school. They get caught up in the day-to-day existence of life, going with life’s flow, adjusting to life as it comes. Most of us live reactive, as opposed to proactive, lives. There comes a time for many of these same people, usually around their 40th birthday, where they begin to have second thoughts such as, “Maybe it’s not too late to…” and they come back to some dream that they had in their late teens. Most pass it off as folly, a fleeting thought, and let it go. Too bad. They have wasted the second most important day of their life.
In recent years many strategies for physical and mental wellness have embraced the ideas espoused by Eckhart Tolle in his 1997 book called The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. The book has become one of the most influential books of the past 20 years, going virtually viral when Oprah Winfrey recommended it as one of the books that changed her life. (Oprah, I hope you’re reading this… I should be so lucky.) Even if you’ve never read the book, you are probably familiar with Tolle, or are at least familiar with the phrase “living in the Now.” Tolle’s ideas, which he borrows from many great spiritual traditions, stress that we are not our thoughts, that our ego and sense of self cause us pain, and that one of the most important things for happiness is focus on the present moment, life’s journey rather than the destination. Undoubtedly, these ideas are some of the most sound and practical advice for us to embrace to enjoy a life of fulfillment. The idea of “living in the Now,” has permeated contemporary consciousness, psychotherapy, coaching, wellness and all the helping professions.
As a coach, I see all too many people given up on dreams and goals that they once had because they believe that it is “too late.” Most people view things in categories such as black or white, all or nothing, possible or impossible. It becomes very easily around that 40th birthday to become a victim of life’s second phase of the “terrible toos,”- as in too old, too late, and too difficult. My job in the psychotherapist part of my life is to explore the feelings, emotions, and sense of lost opportunity that they have around this. My job in the coach part of my life is to help them get there. As a former athletic coach, parent, and high school educator, I find myself far more comfortable helping someone get there. The Chinese proverb above is quite often a part of our discussion.
The reality is that, although we live in the Now, we are going to have future. We often hesitate, fall victim to analysis paralysis, and overthink things. We want to “get more information” about what we are trying to accomplish, do “a little more research,” and think that we are increasing our chances of succeeding. Too often, the days pass, we stop kicking those tires, and end up not taking action. We miss the opportunity of the second most important day of our life.
With coaching clients, I often asked the question “Where do you see yourself in one, three, five, and 10 years from now?” This gets clients future oriented and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities. At some point along the way toward achieving the target goals to get them there, it’s going to get tough. It has to. That’s the way of the world and nature. When it gets tough, I try to remind the client that one year, three years, five years, and 10 years are going to come WHETHER YOU DO THIS OR NOT. Getting them to process this is critical to continued efforts, and continued effort is critical to success. Although we all live in the Now, the future will come regardless.
When you’re reflecting on this Chinese proverb, consider some of the regrets that you have about lost opportunities in your life. Consider jobs, career choices, relationships, business, and recreational activities that you woulda, coulda, and shoulda. Don’t fall victim to the terrible toos. While you may not get the same result that you might have gotten had you started 20 years ago, you just may be planting something beautiful and rewarding, allowing you to live a life with less regrets.
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