The Weight of the Future

Tim Urban draws pictures that help him understand the world. In one of them, he shows a gray line, vertical line, “Today,” separating the past from the future. In the past, there are a lot of black, meandering lines. Those are all the life paths we haven’t taken, Tim says. Then, there’s one — only one — green line: the path we have actually taken to get to today.

The future, however, looks very different. There are no black paths yet. After all, the future is not yet decided. It is, instead, full of possibility. Full of meandering, forking, dividing green lines — all life paths we could, might eventually take. Of course, in the end, as before, only one line will truly be green. The rest will turn into black ashes, just like all the other untaken life paths in our past.

Urban thinks we should think more about the green lines, less about the black ones. The future is where we’re headed, the past is nothing we can do anything about. But if I’m honest, I get more vertigo from the green sparks of potential than I get bitterness from looking at the tarmac of roads unridden. In fact, I’d prefer to reverse the colors. What lies ahead looks like an endless maze, whereas what’s behind has been let go and can rest in peace.

Peaceful indeed. That’s how deliberately blocked off life paths feel to me. The future with all its endless choice? That does little for me — especially because I know most of those winding new ways are not the right ones to begin with.

Do you struggle more with picking a lane or with loving the lane you have chosen? Are your future paths green, your past ones black, or vice versa? I can imagine we all struggle with both at times, but there seems to be a natural tendency towards one more so than the other. The difference is worth knowing. If the potential of the future weighs heavier than the losses of the past, you need more simplicity than variety. A person with the opposite tendency, meanwhile, might want to add ice, color, or any other form of open-mindedness into their life.

Knowing yourself today is the best remedy against both tomorrow and yesterday — and that’s a cup worth drinking from no matter which path you’re on.