There is a Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago…” I’ve always liked this part of the proverb. To me, it says that sometimes, you really just need to shut up and deal with the circumstances at hand, and sometimes, regardless of what you want or how much you complain, you’re just shit outta luck. However, this proverb can give us a lot to learn from.
First and foremost, we learn that you can’t change the past. Your current state is based on the preconditions that existed early in your life. These times have past, and cannot be changed. Everything that you are, do, and have in life was set in motion by your choices, luck, and environment earlier. In your current state, if you don’t have enough money, it’s because you didn’t earn enough or spent too much in the past. If you don’t make much money, it’s because you didn’t go to school, or if you did you chose the wrong major or took on too much debt. If you’re overweight and in poor health, you likely didn’t take care of yourself with preventative care and exercise in the past. If you have more kids than you can afford, you probably didn’t plan enough before having sex, chose your mate poorly, or didn’t take precautions. All these consequences of your current life come from the poor choices, luck, and environment of the past. The message here is that you can blame others, yourself or fate for your current circumstances, but likely your choices had the most influence. So stop complaining, as there’s nothing you can do now to change your current state of being.
What examining all this does is it gives us a clear message. The past sets the conditions and probability of success in the future. This is great news! Why? Because the present is the past of our future. Thus if in the future you’d like to have more money, a better job, pay your bills on time, lose weight and be more health conscience, or anything else, you can start to set the conditions now to influence the probability of these events occurring in the future! The future you is truly in the hands of current you. Note that I did say probability. Luck and the environment will influence you and others as we travel forward in time, but you can heavily influence the odds in your favor. The longer you wait to start, the further in the future your desired results will be.
Think of the future as a roulette wheel. The normal colors are red and black. Each time you do something positive, learn something, treat others nicely or poorly, work hard or sit around being lazy, you color this roulette wheel of the future. Let’s say all the positive things you do let you color in a number on the wheel as green, that’s good. Negative things erase a green number. You are still at the mercy of the wheel, but if you work hard, learn, plan and execute on your plan, you can get higher odds of life landing in a number that you want.
What this ultimately means for you, is that the future you is primarily in your hands right now. If you want a comfy retirement in the future, you can choose the actions and decisions that will best position you for success. That may mean cutting expenses, getting another or a different job, or any number of other things, but they are mostly under your influence. You can only effect things from this moment forward, take advantage of this and shape the future that you want.
The Chinese proverb I mentioned at the beginning, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago…” continues, “…The second best time to plant a tree is today.” Grab hold of your future and work toward getting what you want. Start today.
Readers, what are your experiences with dealing with things as they are? What are you starting to do today?
Karl Nygard is the original founder of Cult of Money and created the website to share his ideas on investing, personal finance, and more.