When I think of my future, it's reasonably bright, but I think it's realistic. I envision my children growing older. I envision one of them — and I'm not sure which one — being traditionally successful, one of them rebellious and then finding their footing a bit later, and one of them struggling (which is almost what you'd expect from three children).
Image by Nick Criscuolo.
I have a picture of living in the country with my wife Sarah and the two of us growing old together and one of us passing away first, likely me (just going by the statistics). That's my realistic view.
I also have an optimistic view, where things go really well. All of our children turn out to be really successful in different ways. I'm able to get my fantasy series published and it's a major hit. We're able to travel internationally with our children during their teen years, exposing them (and us) to more of the world.
At the same time, I have a pessimistic view, where things fall apart in various ways. I get ill and pass away far too young. Sarah suddenly passes away. We fall on financial difficulties.
I don't know what the future holds for me, but I think the realistic view is fairly close to the path that my life will follow. So much of personal finance has to do with the future. If there were no future, after all — if you were genuinely going to die tomorrow — there would be no need for the vast majority of personal finance issues. They would be fruitless. The most important thing to realise is that our future isn't set in stone. We might be heading down a path toward a particular future, but that destination is not guaranteed. In fact, it's altered by almost every decision we make.
That's why I keep those three futures in mind.
My realistic future is the one that's most likely to happen if I keep making the same mixed bag of choices that I'm making today. If I don't change anything, my realistic future is what's going to happen.
My optimistic future is the one that's most likely to happen if I make a lot of good decisions. Every time I make a good decision or take a good action, I move the needle slightly toward the optimistic future.
My pessimistic future — or some variation on it — is the one that's most likely to happen if I make poor decisions: poor parenting, poor safety choices, poor care of my own body and mind and finances.
I'm somewhat happy with my realistic future. I'd be very happy with my optimistic future. I'm not happy at all with my pessimistic future. On a day where I make bad decisions, I reflect on my pessimistic future a bit. Is this really the future I want? On a day where I make ordinary decisions, I reflect on my realistic future a bit. Is this really the future I want?
Both of those reflections push me toward making better decisions each day. They push me to spend more wisely. They push me to eat better and get more exercise. They push me to be more focused with my work. They push me to spend my free time improving myself rather than merely enjoying myself. They push me to be a better parent and a better husband. They push me to be a better me.
Even if I do things really well, I probably won't reach that optimistic future, but I know that I'll get far closer to it if I keep making good choices. Regardless, I don't want to end up with that pessimistic future. All of these things are motivators. They help me keep focused on making good choices in every aspect of my life — financial, personal, professional, and otherwise.
What's your realistic future? What about your optimistic one? Your pessimistic one? What can you do today to move closer to the optimistic one and further from the pessimistic one?
Is Your Future Optimistic, Pessimistic, or Realistic? [The Simple Dollar]
Trent Hamm is a personal finance writer at TheSimpleDollar.com. After pulling himself out of his own financial crisis, he founded the site in late 2006 to help others through financially difficult situations; today the site has become a finance, insurance, and retirement resource. Contact Trent at trent AT the simple dollar DOT com; please send site inquiries to inquiries AT the simple dollar DOT com.