How to Plan For the Future – Even When You’re Scared

TED Women 2019 began yesterday. I’m attending (virtually, this year) and realized the theme right away: Fear. Not to stoke fear, but to see it, feel it and understand it. In her TED Talk, award-winning sci-fi novelist Charlie Jane Anders put it this way:

You cannot prepare for something you haven’t visualized. You don’t predict the future, you imagine the future… We have a logical fallacy that we expect the future to be an extension of the present.

Feeling paralyzed by the future? Perhaps you’re putting too much pressure on controlling what will happen next rather than picturing how you want things to be.

You cannot prepare for something you haven’t visualized

Current circumstances can cloud our vision. I’ve been there as an independent entrepreneur, writer and creator: Being broke at a moment and, within months, making more money than I ever had previously, or being frustrated at the lack of progress and, within days, being breathless at the opportunities available. Sometimes it is part of the journey.

The vision has to stay intact, though. The vision must be preserved. Otherwise, you won’t make the circumstances better.

Think about where you were exactly five year ago. Everything is likely different:

  • New people you love have come into your life or old people have left your life
  • Your business or role likely expanded, solidified or changed altogether
  • What matters to you has evolved

Now, imagine what will be important to you exactly five years from now? That is a visualization. Notice it has nothing directly to do with the modern political environment, the current world economy or even the wishes of people around you. Your visualization of the future is one of the few things that you have complete control over. And, if you let it, your visualization is also one of the pieces that will contribute to the future all of us will have.

You don’t predict the future, you imagine the future

It’s a tough fact: We don’t know what’s going to happen next. Once we accept this truth, then actually planning for the future becomes a much less anxious exercise.

For instance, you don’t know when you’re going to die – could be in the next moment, could be in the next century. But if you did live to be two hundred years old, then what kind of life would you lead? What would be your priorities? How can you lean into those ideas now?

More dramatically, when you look back from the future, what would you regret wasting your time with at the moment? Wasting a year or two of an average lifespan with a bad habit or idea is one thing, but wasting exponential decades in a longer lifespan is quite another.

Imagination isn’t restricted to sci-fi novels. Imagination is the ability to create a blueprint for a time that isn’t here yet.

We have a logical fallacy that we expect the future to be an extension of the present

I agree with this problem and, oddly enough, it is easy to snap out of – especially if you are an entrepreneur:

The kids born when these companies started would barely be out of college, if elementary school. And yet, these companies have impacted the world economy in ways we are just starting to understand (though perhaps we could visualize it!).

Everything can change at any moment. It is only scary when you aren’t helping direct the future. Afraid about what’s going to happen next? Then start creating what’s going to happen next. It begins with visualizing what could – and perhaps should – be.

By Damon BrownEntrepreneur and author, “The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur”@browndamon