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Planning for the Future and Being in the Now

A reader wrote in:

Job-stress--work--time-clock--worker---18236949It’s said in Buddhism that the way to happiness is not to escape or avoid pain, but to just “stay.” I recently decided to leave my job because I felt I was being treated poorly, and also because every day each task I was given felt insurmountable because I so badly did not want to do it. I was a receptionist who began to dread answering the phone or making copies of documents. I felt so unhappy doing the work I was doing because its purpose was not important to me.

I left it to pursue a career working with children because that is a path I feel passion for, something that was lacking for me in my last job. But, according to Buddhism, should I have stayed? Is it OK to escape something when you know that what you’re “escaping” to is going to be more meaningful to you? I guess this is something I’ve always struggled with in Buddhism. If I’m supposed to stay present, how do I progress, plan for the future or make significant changes in my life?

Thank you for any insight you can offer.

My Response:

You said:

It’s said in Buddhism that the way to happiness is not to escape or avoid pain, but to just “stay.”

Where does it say that in Buddhism? Taoism is very passive; almost too passive in my opinion, but that’s not the same thing as Buddhism. Nowhere does Buddhism say “Stay in a bad place.” or “Keep up the suffering.” Quite the opposite. Buddhism is all about relieving suffering, both for others, and yourself.

If moving to a new job will reduce your suffering overall, then of course you should do it. You’ll need to consider all the factors: Will changing jobs create a financial hardship? Do you need the old job for benefits? Will the new job have a terrible commute? There are more things to consider than just “I don’t want to do this anymore” when weighing in the suffering of your old job. Perhaps it would cause less suffering to stick with the old one, maybe moving would be better.

If the money, commute, etc. is not a factor, and the only thing that matters is what you do, then yes, I’d change. Working with children has a lot of advantages, both to you and the children.

Buddhism does state that you should be “in the now.” And one of the “catchphrases” of Buddhism is even “Be here. Now.” And it means what it says. Don’t dwell on the future to the detriment of the present. Don’t reflect on the past to the point where it spoils your day. It’s fine to think about the future and the past, just don’t dwell on it. Don’t get caught up in the “what ifs” and “maybe somedays,” deal with the now.

Everyone makes plans. Everyone thinks to the future. Maybe in theory you shouldn’t have to do it, but in practice, you do, at least a little. I know people who have every step of their career planned out all the way into retirement. Those people are happy with that plan, so who am I to argue? As long as they don’t stick to the plan when their needs or abilities change, what’s the harm in it? If the plan becomes a chore, if the plan becomes a burden, then it’s time to change plans. The plan itself is not a bad thing.

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