emerging adulthood, mental health & wellness, spiritual

Imagination and Fear of the Future

11-2014 Regent visit (11)
Handout at a recent grad school visit. Theme of the day: “Imagine.”

A black hole of nothingness.

That’s how one of my college roommates once described life after college. She couldn’t see what came after graduation, so all she could picture was…nothing. And, secretly, for quite a while, I agreed.

Despondent, I would stare into a blank journal or a career aptitude test or the face of a mentor and say “I just…don’t know. Sorry.”

But, after walking into the nothingness (note: not sitting in it but walking right into it) for six months to a year, the black hole started to clear.

The answer to the fear: use your imagination.

Our inability to see what comes next doesn’t have to blind us to see nothing. On the contrary, with imagination, it can liberate us to see anything.

Here’s how it works.

In creative writing classes that I’ve taken and taught, students would be instructed to create characters — complete with their appearances, families, hometowns, occupations, and contents of their purses. After, say, 15 minutes, the instruction was given: “take your character in a new direction. New occupation, new home, new relationships.” Without fail, protest ensued. After just 15 minutes of character development, students felt deeply protective of their characters. But, without fail, the exercise brought stronger, deeper personalities to the characters.

Likewise, in life, you’re creating the character called you. After, say, 4 years (or however long it takes to pass through a particular season of life), the instruction is given: “Take yourself in a new direction.” You may want to protest. Because, after the character development you’ve worked on in your latest season of life, you may feel deeply protective of your character. (What if I can’t do any other occupation? What if I lose touch with friends or family? I have to protect that from happening!) But, with imagination, the exercise can bring stronger, deeply personality to your character.

What does this look like in everyday life?

It looks like trying new activities, whether as a one-time venture, hobby, volunteer role, or occupation. It looks like visiting new places, whether an office you’re interviewing at (even if it’s a long-shot), a school you may went to attend, a church you may be even slightly interested in joining. It looks like becoming the change you wish to see in yourself (to paraphrase Gandhi).

Imagine a picture of something you could do, somewhere you could go, someone you could meet.

Imagine it so clearly that the picture fills up your black hole of nothingness and crowds out fear.

Imagine it, over time, right into existence.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis mine)

1 thought on “Imagination and Fear of the Future”

  1. Beautifully said! My experience is that we all go through many of those “black hole” times in our lives when we’re changing or some part of our lives is changing or we feel a need to change something, but we’re not sure exactly what or how or what comes next. And that’s where we need to take a leap of faith, in some respects, and embrace the change as much as we can.

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