The Greatest Wrinkle in Time: Blinded By the Lights

We’ve all been in the tunnel.  It’s dark and dreary.  There never seems to be an end to it.  So, we just keep on walking; hoping at some point to see the light.  It’s subtle at first, until at some point we keep walking and the light gets brighter and brighter. At some point, likely because we’ve focused on it for so long, the light becomes blinding.  Our goal that we have fought so long for now prevents us from seeing anything else.  We are blinded by the lights that we are hustling so hard to achieve.

Two recent movies may help us better understand this problem and open our eyes a bit.

Today, we will discuss both of the movies briefly before diving into how to diagnose yourself as being blinded by the lights and how to fix the problem.

Let’s dig in.

Two Theatrical Perspectives

The Dalai Lama put it this way when he was asked what he thought was the most surprising thing about humanity:

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

Following in the Dalai Lama’s foot steps, two recent movies have really driven home the following point:  Don’t hustle so hard for your goals that you forget to enjoy what is sitting right in front of you.

Spoiler Alert: There are some spoilers below for these two movies.

The Greatest Showman

The greatest showman follows the journey of P.T. (“Phin”) Barnum and his quest to make a name for himself.  He has a penchant for the theatrical and the macabre.

He also has a penchant for needing to be rich and important to other people.

The film follows his journey from rags to riches.  He starts out as the son of a tailor who doesn’t make much and leaves nothing when he dies.  Instilled with a good work ethic and an unparalleled imagination, he has big dreams.

I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but suffice it to say that he starts to succeed.  A lot.

Yet, with each goal he achieves, it never seems to be enough. He always wants more and is never content.  Unfortunately, each step he takes involves taking unmitigated risks where he puts it all on the line.

At the end of the movie, he finally comes to his senses.  He realizes that risking everything he and his family have for the next “best thing” is all worthless.

At one point his wife tells him:
“You don’t need everyone to love you, Phin.
Just a few good people.”

He then begins to understand that the entire time he has been trying to “make it,” his family has been there.  They have been more than enough in this life.  He makes a promise to never again to “be blinded by the lights.”

The Greatest Showman Take Home

We can learn a lot from P.T. Barnum.  We can learn from his ingenuity and how he was hustlin’ hard.  More importantly, though, we can learn to make sure we keep our priorities right.

If we are hustlin’ so hard that we leave behind those we love, what’s the point?  We can have all the riches in the world, but if we have not love; it’s pointless. Or as the Bible says, if you have not love, you are nothing.

The lesson? Don’t get blinded by the lights of your future goals and learn to be content with the here and now.

A Wrinkle in Time

The other movie that really drove this point home for me was A Wrinkle in Time.

[For any of the parents out there, I definitely recommend that your kid be at least 7 years old (or a really brave 6 year old) to watch this movie.  My son was super scared during the dark moments of this film and he is less than 5.]

The premise behind this film (And the original book) involves a teenage girl named Meg Murphy.  Meg’s dad is a scientist who disappears while trying to solve worm-hole space travel through physics.

In the end, he figures it out, just to disappear into a world from which he cannot escape. Oh, the irony. His daughter and son take on a mission to save their dad after he has been missing for four years.

Of course, they find him and when they get him back home he has something profound to say:

The Dad talking to Meg, his daughter:
“I wanted to shake hands with the universe,
when the hand I should have been holding was yours.”

The point he is making is that he was hustlin’ so hard after becoming important and solving a problem that has fascinated him for so long, that he forgot the people who had been there the whole time.

Take Home from A Wrinkle in Time

The lesson that Dr. Murphy teaches us is very similar to the lesson that P.T. Barnum taught us.  If you are hustling so hard after your goals that you leave your loved ones behind, what’s the point?

The lesson? We can get so fixated on our future goals that we don’t ever really live in the present.

Blinded by the Lights: Signs and Symptoms

There are some tell tale signs and symptoms when someone has been blinded by the lights of their future goals instead of being present in the here and now.

They usually start with a few different “catch phrases” and imply that life will get better someday… and it also implies that life isn’t good right now.

The Signs: “Once we are”…; “Once I have”…; and “After we are” Syndromes

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?

Once we are out of residency, everything will be so much better.

Once we are out of this house/apartment, we will be so much happier. You can also insert “car” in that sentence.

Or what about this?  Once I have enough money in my bank account, I can start doing what I want. No one will be able to tell me what to do!   Doc G calls this the “Once I Have Syndrome.

These are simple catch phrases but all of them certainly implies two very specific things:
1) Your present situation is what determines your contentment/happiness.
2) Your happiness will magically improve once your current situation is over.

The truth?  The vast majority of the time if you cannot be content in your current situation, you won’t be content in your future situation either.

Contentment has much more to do with life skills than with your current situation.

Why did I only say this is the truth the vast majority of the time?  Why not all the time?

Well, there certainly are times where your current situation can be so bad that life will actually improve “once we are” out of it.  It’s just a lot less common than we realize.

If this is such a common phenomenon, then certainly there must be a treatment to help us when we are Blinded by the Lights?

Blinded by the Lights: Treatment

The treatment is pretty simple:  Knowledge.

Knowing that when you get a new car it is going to be “just a car” after the first three to six months wear off.  The same goes for that fancy doctor house you want.

Knowing that making more income isn’t likely to make you happier.  There is a limit to that effect (it’s usually around $75,000-$100,000 depending on where you live).

Knowing that if you cannot save money right now, you likely will never be good at it.  Residents often complain about not being able to build wealth with a median household income for the U.S.

Knowing that the most important things in life are usually right in front of you.  They are not cars, houses, private schools, or the country club membership.  The most important things don’t even include your 401K.

Take Home: Know What is Important

You have to figure out what is important to you in this life.  Likely, the things that you think are preventing you from being happy will continue to keep you miserable even when your situation changes.

If you find yourself saying things like “once I have” or “Once we are,” then stop yourself short.  Life does get a little easier, but it won’t make you any happier if you cannot learn to be happy now.

You may not like hearing that, but it is definitely true the vast majority of the time.

Have you ever been blinded by the lights of future success or changes?  How did you learn to be content in what you had?  Or are you still discontented despite the change?  Leave a comment below.

TPP

6 thoughts on “The Greatest Wrinkle in Time: Blinded By the Lights

  1. I keep saying over and over. My happiness bar is set extremely low and I always meet it and beyond. I weirdly loved Medical School as I had wonderful classmates.

    When you work as a physician and see the unfairness of life, it can only serve to humble a person. I am grateful everyday when I have my health and my family. I realize each day that I get to enjoy that is another win.

    I do not live my life believing I am owed a certain level of anything. I am grateful for each day that I am spared what so many have to suffer through.

    Thanks for writing this TPP. It was lovely to read.

  2. This one hits home, really great post, and a very good reminder for the typical high achiever.

    It isn’t that we shouldn’t work hard, or go after our dreams, but like you said we should know what’s really important. And not forget to actually live, and enjoy life in the present with our loved ones!

    Great post!

  3. TPP, I’ve certainly been blinded by the lights and I suspect many of us have too. It’s easy to adopt the “once I have” syndrome and not be content with what you have now. I combat this, I try to adopt a conscious mindset of gratitude. I mute my phone, close the browser, make myself unavailable to the world, and go kick the soccer ball with my kid.

    • Making that an intentional decision is the key. I am not great at putting things down. My wife remind me of that, fortunately. I do try to never tell my kids no when they ask to play with me, though. They aren’t always going to ask.

      Good job being a great parent, MD!

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