Photo: Anne Lawrence, Ennis, TX 2021

I know what we’re having for dinner; it’s almost on the table. I know, basically, what my day will look like tomorrow, thanks to my calendar and team-based expectations around what needs to get done. I don’t know what we’ll do this weekend, but given the weather conditions, I have some ideas. This summer, I suspect will be similar to last, but with a few key changes. Next year or the year after… my vision shrinks. I only have vague notions of how things might be based on what has happened in the past + what I expect to happen based on current projections. Here, we move into the realm of the future. For all of my strengths as a planner and a creative person, I shy away from fixating too much on the future. It is the last unknown.

Forgetting to plan out far enough is a recurring short-coming of mine. I focus on the moment, strategically conserving resources, pushing through the crisis, which often doesn’t allow for much planning beyond getting out of a hole. We are pattern-seekers, anchoring the future to what we know about the past. Unmooring the future, stepping into a world of limitless possibilities triggers a kind of vertigo — too many options pushes them all out of reach, spinning further away. Yet it is precisely this exercise that brings new futures into the realm of possibility. By divorcing the unknown from the known, new alternatives appear, new patterns emerge, bringing forward a new logic and rationality that never existed before.

In business speak, the past is often thought of in terms of sunk cost. What we invested time and effort into in the past is a gift to our present or future selves, rather than a burden to continue to carry. A degree in a field or profession you no longer practice is not time wasted, but a divergent perspective and life experience that continues to inform and bring value in unexpected ways. It is not a debt to be “redeemed” by staying in a profession that does not meet your current needs. By framing the past as inert or fixed, you can move past it without guilt, but most importantly, you can liberate the future. Rather than constraining the future along a singular linear trajectory, you may embrace divergent paths, the serendipity of the unexpected, a future unknown. As for me, I will work to continue to mine the past for new threads to follow as I work to heal the severed connections caused by one too many crises, while at the same time cutting away the dead weight of sunk costs, instead letting the future grow, unencumbered, shimmering, shining, and bright.

Writer, researcher, observer