Tears at my birthday party

The perils of Future World Creation


I’m constantly creating Future Worlds in my head. I know you know what I’m talking about. As you’re reading this, think of how many times you’ve envisioned this afternoon or tomorrow, dreaming up a narrative about how you want things to go, crafting a story of how you expect things to go, running simulations of all the various ways things could go. These are all different flavors of Future World Creation.

Sometimes these imaginary storylines are useful. Planning plays a pivotal role in coordinating our lives and visualization can serve as a guiding force as we prepare for an uncertain future.

However, I have a habit of becoming attached to my specific Future World Creation. And I’ve seen how attaching too tight can generate all sorts of turmoil in my life.


I’m turning 4 years old. My entire pre-K class is coming over to my house for an army-themed birthday party. There’s a camouflage face paint station so we can hide our baby faces. Nerf guns are locked & loaded, ready for the impending battle. There will even be lil toy soldiers atop the ice cream cake (my mom was the Michael Jordan of hosting kids’ birthday parties). This, right here, this was about to be my version of Heaven. I can't wait. Let’s get this party started!

Ready to deploy with Easy Company

Flash-forward 2 hours…

Tears are streaming down my face. I’m wailing with frustration. I’m having a full-blown temper tantrum.

My mom, bless her soul, is trying to calm me down, “Trent, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

In between gasps for air, as tears flow down my face, I scream out, “Chris’s mom gave me a hug and smudged my face paint. Then, I got out first in the Nerf war. I’m not supposed to get out first… it’s my birthday!!! And it’s vanilla ice cream in the cake. I wanted chocolate!”

A party that was supposed to be my Heaven, suddenly turned into an unbearable horror.

I’m tempted to defend my 4 year old Self by blaming it on the sugar high -> crash that inevitably occurs after multiple slices of ice cream cake (no matter the flavor). But that wasn’t the root cause of my frustration.

No-no, what happened here was a symptom of “Future World Creation.”

As we setup for the party, I had created a Future World in my head that showed me having the coolest camo face paint, standing atop the Nerf War podium with chocolate ice cream cake in hand. It was a beautiful sight. And I replayed it over & over & over, each time relishing in just how great it was going to feel when it actually happened later that day. I didn’t realize that my excitement was subtly transforming into expectation.

Of course, the “real world” didn’t ultimately conform to my vision for it. As I felt my created world melting away like a half-eaten piece of ice cream cake, I threw a temper tantrum as a last-ditch effort to reverse the course of events and reclaim the world that I was losing.

I refused to accept this version of reality. I wanted mine!

Now that I’m a "grown up," I wish I could say I’ve learned my lesson…
Spoiler: I haven’t.

I habitually review my calendar for tomorrow and envision how the events of the day will unfold. I create a world where I execute my responsibilities with peak energy, elite efficiency, all while sporting an unwavering smile. I replay this version of my Future World over & over & over until I convince myself that this has to be the way it’ll go. I form the expectation that tomorrow’s reality will conform to my vision for it.

Whether it’s a disrupted commute, a meeting that spills over its neatly-allotted slot, or a friend calling during Focus Time, something inevitably disrupts my creation.

Then the question becomes…
When life doesn’t go according to my plan, will I resist this new reality & throw a temper tantrum? Or will I meet it with acceptance & adapt to where I am?

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