Can I Do All Things? – Setting Future You Up For Success

So, after I was all big and bad about how I’m now on my own in coming up with topics to write about, it turns out John/Desk.pm are providing daily writing prompts. That dude is all about making my blogging life as easy as possible and I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so today’s prompt is:

Meditate and reflect on this quote: “Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.” ~ Samuel Johnson

This quote made me think of a passage in the New Testament that is often misunderstood in my opinion. If you even rubbed shoulders with the Christian community, you’ve probably heard someone quote the book of Philippians saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Obviously I don’t disagree with the verse itself, but people often seem to think the strength you’re being filled with comes to you in the moment of need, like downloading strength straight to your inner being via the Matrix or a genie granting your immediate wish.

If you’ll indulge me, the whole passage that verse comes from goes like this:

	I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

(Philippians 4:10-13 ESV)

The type of strength being talked about here is perseverance or endurance, not “I just got zapped with Hulk-like power!” The problem is that we don’t want perserverance or endurance, we want to be zapped and have whatever our problems are taken care of. We want to conquer, not endure.

To be sure, there will be times you can muscle through a situation. There will be times where your source of strength in the moment will certainly seem other-worldly. But sitting around hoping that kind of power will zap you in the second you need it most is no way to live your life. What you need is diligence and skill, to quote Samuel Johnson above. And these are not granted from a genie in the moment, they are honed over time.

Our first week at the Iron Yard (drink now if you’re playing the Jared’s Blog Drinking Game. Please eliminate the “drink when Jared uses parentheses” category, though, nobody can imbibe that much liquor!), we spoke about the concept of “Future You” and writing code with Future You in mind. Make it readable and easy to determine what you were trying to achieve with this block of code so that when you revisit it months later you don’t stare at it slack-jawed and confused.

The problem is that instead of setting Future You up for success, a lot of us are relying on Future You to take care of our present issues. In fact, we seriously overestimate Future You’s ability to come through for us, because we’re using the same mentality that hopes we’ll be zapped with power in our second of need. And, unfortunately, as of right now, Future You has the exact same failings and deficiencies that Present You has. Nothing will change unless you will.

So Sammy J, the Bible and even The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology all agree, you have to set Future You up for success. There’s a difference between the high you’re getting from fantasizing about yourself in the future, somehow better in all ways (better-looking, smarter, healthier, somehow more disciplined), and the great feeling you can get knowing that a small action you’re doing today is making life so much easier for the Future You that will face all sorts of difficulties you’ll inevitably face.

Our wise forefathers were right when years ago they oft said, “Shit happens.” I don’t have to know you to know that if you’ve lived life long enough, some seriously terrible things have happend to you. Some of them you have handled with grace and wisdom you didn’t know you had.

Maybe you were zapped in the moment, but I bet if we looked closely, we’d see that moment was the sum of thousands of previous moments where you decided to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing. (It would be easy for me to say you chose the hard thing instead of the easy thing, but sometimes the easy thing is actually the right thing and doing something hard for pride’s sake is the wrong thing). I don’t know where you are right now, but I hope you’re life is progressively heading towards diligence, skill, and perseverance. Future You really hopes that, too.

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