Fear of the Future
My many years of teaching 8th grade has offered a unique perspective. The entire year is a crossroads, a place where childhood and independence meet and often vie for dominance. The kids are excited for their increased freedoms and new opportunities.
But they’re also scared.
They seem to recognize that the life, the relationships and the security that they have known has a deadline.
And that soon, they will have to face a future that they worry they’re not prepared for.
As adults, we watch them grapple with these realizations and we offer words of advice and comfort that come from our additional years of living and navigating change. We smile at their naiveté and their assurances that they will manage to control all elements of their life path.
And yet even while we offer them guidance, we often struggle with similar fears.
Because, let’s face it.
The future, with its infinite possibilities and endless opportunities for challenges, can be downright terrifying. And just like with my students, these fears are at their most vocal during times of transition.
There are five primary fears that can contribute to an apprehension about the future:
1 – “I don’t know what’s coming.”
There’s a reason we often talk through what’s going to happen at a doctor’s visit or on Halloween with young children – once we know what’s coming, it loses some of its power to scare us.
We tend to be most afraid of the future when it seems to stretch out into darkness, when we have to summon the faith to take blind steps not knowing what lurks in the shadows. And the problem with an unknown future is that we view it as a threat and so we go in armed, more apt to attack than explore.
We don’t need to have a crystal ball or an approved life script to prepare ourselves for what’s coming. Energy spent planning and preparing can go a long way towards easing your fears, even if those fears never come to fruition.
2 – “I won’t be able to handle it.”
Much like with any new challenge, we are uncertain with our abilities as we learn to adapt to the new demands. And since the future is a challenge we haven’t faced before, we worry that we won’t pass muster and that we will ultimately fail to rise to the test.
And at first, it may feel like it’s too much. Life often has a way of presenting us with a 200-lb barbell when we’re still struggling to lift a 20-lb dumbell. But then, a little at a time, you get stronger. And what was once impossible is now completely doable.
When we peer off the cliff edge down into the unknown future, we’re picturing the person we are today trying to handle the challenges of tomorrow. What we often fail to appreciate is the wisdom, strength and training that we gain along the way.
3 – “The future won’t be as good as what I have known.”
The only thing certain is the past. So if you want certainty, that’s where you’ll have set up camp.
We have this way of rose-tinting the past and coal-smudging a future that we fear. And we know what we have treasured in our lives. Those memories gain prominence and importance over the years, developing a shine as we take them out and run over them again. Any grit that accompanied those memories has been worn away in time.
And the future, with its jagged edges, threatens to never be able to compete with those treasured times.
Yet one day, that future that you now fear will provide more memories that you treasure.
4 – “Change means losing what I have.”
We’re hardwired to fear change. We have more aversion to loss than we do anticipation for what might be gained.
And so we often, we freeze. Thinking that if we just stay still, stay quiet, that the status quo will continue. Anticipatory grief and regret keeping us locked in inaction.
Yet the scary – and also freeing – truth is this.
Even if you change nothing, everything will will change.
That’s just how life works.
Some people and things come in and others move out.
Which if you think about it, is as natural as breathing.
5 – “I can’t control the future.”
No, you can’t.
But you do have some say in the control that future has over you.
If you can’t stop what’s coming and you can’t prevent change, why allow a fear of the future to dictate your life now?