Live with the Long View
The most important time to operate with the long view is when the future seems most uncertain.
Problem is, uncertainty pulls our attention toward the situation that’s close at hand. We become preoccupied with what’s going on short-range. Then what happens? We behave as if present circumstances will dictate how our future develops. Instead, we should rely on our long view of the future to guide how we deal with our present circumstances.
You have a life story unfolding here, and you’re the primary author as well as the main character. How do you want this story to turn out?
The author E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” The important thing is to write through the uncertainty—to write with the story in mind—even though it’s hard to predict what’s coming next or know for sure how the story will end.
So think strategically. Keep moving forward, creatively and purposefully, with the book of your life in mind. Let your day-to-day tactics be shaped by your long view.
A far-reaching perspective gives you a more balanced view of the present. Here’s a case in point. Research shows that human beings have a far greater sensitivity to losses than to gains. In fact, losses can carry twice the psychological impact of gains. So when we assess the potential risks associated with uncertainty, our short-term gamble will normally be warped. We’ll much prefer to take risks that might avoid a possible loss than take risks to achieve a possible gain. To put it another way, we’re far more concerned about what uncertainty might take from us than what good it might bring. We should adjust our lens to give us a view with more depth of field.
Now, you may want to consider several different scenarios as possible roads you might have to travel in writing your story. Scenario planning is a process for rehearsing the future. The idea is to imagine alternatives to what seems like the most probable or “official” future if current trend lines are projected forward. And why go through this mental exercise? Because creating an array of plausible yet quite different scenarios will challenge your assumptions.
Preparing for multiple futures stretches your thinking in new directions. It prepares you for potential surprises and adds flexibility in support of your long view.
Much of what life brings our way, of course, lies beyond our control—we’re only in charge of how we prepare and react. We each must craft our personal story around the future we anticipate and, then, around the realities we actually encounter. Still, we can prepare and react in keeping with the big story we carry inside.
The plot will sometimes shift on us unexpectedly. The periods of uncertainty can be disorienting. But the inner compass that will help us keep our bearings is the long view.
“Most people think of the future as the ends and the present as the means, whereas, in fact, the present is the ends and the future is the means.”
—Fritz Roethlisberger (Quoted by Pascale, Milleman, and Gioja in Surfing the Edge of Chaos)