A few months ago I ran across Philips Zimbardo’s talk on time perspective. It’s one of many quirky RSA animations that use videos of drawings to illustrate a lecture with great effect. Zimbardo’s time perspective lecture focused on the difference between past, present and future oriented time perspectives, how they evolve out of specific places and cultures and what they mean for 21st century humans, particularly for the youngest generation–often referred to as our “cyber natives.” It is a fascinating look at the way a simple thing like how we perceive time can change our outlook of the world and our expectations for our selves and our social and professional paths.
This week I am in Youngstown, Ohio doing some school visits and other creative projects. I’ve been working in this part of Ohio for a few years and always enjoy coming here because it is a place where I have really been able to blend all my professional passions–education, the arts and environmental interests. But, once upon a time, I also went to graduate school in nearby Cleveland and so it represents a place in my own timeline that was pivotal in so many ways. Yesterday, between visiting friends, I drove around my old stomping grounds in Cleveland Heights and felt the existential impact of time passage in a profound way.
On the one side of this personal timeline is my old apartment on Hampshire Boulevard. Standing at the front of this building, I see a figurative doorway of time. It represents a time in my youngest adulthood that was full of different friends and different adventures. It was a time of curiosity, exploration, anxiety and, admittedly, lots of vice and little virtue. A time before marriage, career, parenthood and all those responsibilities… a time before knowing who I might become. Looking at this pile of bricks it is ironic to me that although two decades have passed, the building is exactly as it was–housing some other person who is busy making their own way–but my life has evolved in ways that I could not have predicted or imagined.
Fast forward to the other end of my timeline: the present. After snapping the shot of my old digs I met a brand, new friend for lunch. Nina and I have been taking an online certification class together and, in a serendipitous turn of events, she and I were both in Cleveland on the same weekend. We “met” months ago and have truly connected in many sweet, funny and thoughtful conversations, both on the phone and in emails, however, this was our first actual face to face meeting. I joked with her that it was a little bit like a blind date and must admit that there was a butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that is really similar to a blind date! My lunch date with Nina represents a new doorway in my life… new friends, new adventures, new curiosities, new explorations, anxieties and, fortunately, less vice and a little more virtue. We talked about our work in the arts and brainstormed lots of exciting ways that we might collaborate professionally. It was a good, good time.
Later I had dinner with a family for whom I used to be a nanny. My former ward took a break from studying in her dorm room at Case Western to join us for dinner… we laughed about her imaginary friend, Mango, and the song lyrics she once wrote for her two best songs, “Candy Bar” and “Can of Soup.” Where once I changed her diapers and helped her hold crayons, now I asked her about her plans for her own future… her place in the world not so much different than mine was in my old apartment on Hampshire Boulevard 20 years ago. Time marches on.
Zimbardo talks about the pros and cons of being either past, present or future oriented. Sometimes, I think, it’s good to take a moment to be all three at once. Yesterday I felt the pull of the past, along with all of the gratitude and regret that only the past can bring and I felt the excitement and hope for the future that comes with the impossible unknowing of the unknown. But, most of all, in this place, I felt a surreal mix that tells me the present is a crazy blend of all of our life’s experiences plus our expectations of the future and that, combined with actual places that hold our histories, speaks to us about who we have been, who we are and who we might become.
TRY THIS WEEK: Honor your timeline.