Sometimes the Big Picture is the Enemy

There is a big deadline on the horizon.

The is a possible disaster looming in our personal lives.

We have a huge project with multiple levels of possible catastrophe.

What usually happens in these situations? Well, if you’re like me you start to dwell about everything that can go wrong along the way and the feeling of impending doom becomes pretty crushing. Sometimes it gets so bad you can just sit spinning your wheels over a variety of possible, but not even probable, outcomes.

I talk to job seekers who fall into this trap all the time. The process of looking for new work is complex and can be difficult. There are people to meet, documents to create, research to be continually performed, interviews and more interviews to prep for. It is easy to get swamped by the details.

Clearly, this situation is not conducive to getting anything done, or making any kind of progress. Intellectually, I know this, and so do you, but that awareness is often not enough to draw the curtain on the play of follies that is constantly running in our mind’s eye. So what to do?

Focus on the now. That is all there ever really is.

No matter how large the project or how difficult the task, you can only deal with what is in front of you. All those future worst-case scenarios have not happened yet, and may never happen at all. And even if some of them do, do you want to suffer them twice? Once before they happen and then when they actually do?

I have written before about the importance of a good plan and schedule to order your professional life, whether during a big project, or even more importantly, when you are between jobs. Plans and schedules help you see the big picture and make steady progress towards a goal. So yes, there is a time to look to the future. But, and this is a big but, when the planning is done, stop dwelling on it.

A good plan allows you to forget it and just focus on the task at hand with the confidence that when all the daily tasks are performed the end result will be what you want it to be. Follow your daily to-do list and stop dwelling on possible futures. The real future will be here soon enough and then you can deal with that as well.

Believe me, I know this is easier said than done. Sometimes I feel it is my life’s goal to master this one simple lesson. However, just because it is hard to do doesn’t mean that it is wrong. In fact, I’d argue just the opposite. Mastery of self is hard work. We should do it because it is hard. We should do it because once we are able to put the big picture out of our mind and focus on the present everything becomes a little easier.

All we ever have is the now. The future hasn’t happened and the past is already over. Be here now.