A Brief Guide to Making a Better Tomorrow
Practical tools to keep yourself moving toward a brighter future, even when things are terrifying.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz, photo illustration by Kitron Neuschatz
It is no longer deniable, the state we are in. From political chaos to economic disparity, corrupt authorities, unveiled patriarchy and racism, and the threat of catastrophic climate change, dystopia touches us all daily. But for those of us inheriting such an uncertain future, tomorrow can feel particularly bleak.
According to the VICE youth survey, 55 percent of respondents feel “incapable” of enacting change when it comes to economic issues, and 62 percent feel the same about conflicts like war.Yet 71 percent of respondents to the survey also reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around climate problems, and 85 percent feel the same about social problems. They’ve been dealt an uneven hand, but Millennials still believe in action and the power to make a positive impact. In that spirit, here is a set of practical tools to keep yourself moving toward a better future, even when it seems terrifying.
Look Back to Look Forward
One of the easiest ways we can get overwhelmed is by believing that we are doing something original, for the first time, with no guidance or wisdom to call on. We are hopefully evolving, possibly innovating, but we walk in the footsteps of survivors, innovators, and, more than anything else, a lot of lesser-known people whose lives we rarely hear of.
Each of those quiet lives had longings, dreams, expectations, things that went unfinished. Call on one of these people—a late great-great grandparent, perhaps. I often think of all the unnamed, enslaved ancestors of mine who survived, and survived, and survived, so that I might “innovate” and “find myself” today. Find your miraculous, mundane survivor-ancestor, and live a life worthy of their suffering, attention, and blessings.
The late Black science fiction writer Octavia Butler once wrote that it is not about talent, but rather about practice—what we do, what we make into a habit. What Butler called “positive obsession” is something that centers our attention, driving us in a way that generates and creates more possibilities in life. It is the motivator for practices that become our days and nights. Find what lights you up, and the people who reflect and grow that light, to the extent you can give your life, or at least part of it, to what you truly care about. Butler, for her part, would wake up at 3 AM to write before clocking in at a factory job.
Respect Your Limitations
You are one person. You’ve been allotted 24 hours a day, some of which are already booked for sleep, food, and using the toilet. And, as of this writing, you will die at some point too. The limit of the time we get to actively shape change, as Butler put it, is real. This can feel restrictive. But I, for one, feel grateful for these limitations, as they make time precious to me. Respect the limitations of your life, which is to say: Use and protect your time in right relationship to its preciousness.
Defy Our Limitations
It is a generational responsibility to go further—ethically, morally, and in terms of the quality of human life and our inventions—than humans have ever gone. I love few things more than having what feels like a new understanding about life, or a new idea, and then opening a book by Butler, or Grace Lee Boggs, Audre Lorde, or James Baldwin, and finding the idea thoroughly explored, decades before my birth. It’s humbling in the way I can learn from their thinking and push myself and my communities to go further in our own thinking and practice. Don’t spend your life creating inside the lines of what has already been done. Individual success is a lie. Collective innovation is a necessity.
Have a Sense of Humor
Relinquish perfection, because it truly isn’t possible, at least not for long. Laugh at your missteps and mistakes, and then learn and keep playing the game.
This is an incredible time to be alive, exactly because of all the changes in motion. Rather than getting stuck in terror, harness all that energy of wanting to live, wanting to thrive, of pleasure and laughter and connection. Use your whole self to shape the future.
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