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Are We Wishing Our Lives Away?

When I was young I felt infinite. Long summer days stretched lazily before me, fading mirage-like into the shimmering horizon. As far I was concerned, time was a concept invented by adults as an excuse to send me to bed. The future was an illusion because it didn’t really exist- the only thing I cared about was the dam I was building, or finishing the next chapter of Swallows and Amazons.

But fast forward a few years and suddenly I was preoccupied about my skirt length and dabbing huge blots of concealer on my face. GCSEs were looming and I still couldn’t tell you what a covalent bond was, let alone distinguish the ablative case from the dative. And don’t get me started on the genitive. Was it a virulent venereal disease or …? I had become self-conscious, but I was still not self-aware. The future, although now existent and tangible, was still held comfortably at an arm’s length. My responsibilities were confined to the very near future. I remember overhearing a girl several years above me complaining about university applications. I flounced by in my rolled-up maroon skirt thinking “I’ll never be that old”.

Yet here I am, twenty-one years old and officially an adult. The past few years have sped by at a break-neck speed. I’m so conscious of time that I’m writing my dissertation on the subject, spending far too much of it thinking about it. It seems that the older we become the more we think about our future; but the older we are, the faster time passes. In what is essentially a horribly self-perpetuating cycle, we try to achieve more at a rate that is inversely proportional to the amount of time we have left.

But aspiration is essential. It’s part of the human condition: we become self-aware, we dream and we plan. And if we’re lucky, our dreams become reality. Although we may be constantly referring to the future – longing for our Greek holiday or that genius idea that will make us millions – this doesn’t mean we’re wishing our lives away. Wishing implies wanting not wasting. And wanting implies desire: a goal, an ambition, a future end of some sort or another. The phrase “wishing your life away” is nonsensical, for a life lived with purpose does not imply a life squandered.

A more pressing matter seems to be that of “living in the moment”. We reminisce about the past, and we look forward to the future. And once the future becomes the present, we worry so much about it passing that we barely enjoy it at all. We’re told to “make the most of it”, but how can we live each moment to its fullest if we’re worrying about it the entire time? The answer is to simply exist. We live in the present simply by being. We remember the past, live the present, and await the future. Part of the enjoyment stems from anticipation of future events: of nervous, jittery feelings of excitement and meticulous planning for a single moment.

It’s the nature of time. So, go ahead and wish your life away, with the smug knowledge that all the wishing you’re doing actually serves to enhance the future present moments. Just one word of advice before I leave you to make your wishes: don’t overthink what I’ve just said… and definitely don’t overthink about overthinking.

Third year philosophy student, currently on a year abroad in Perth.
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