My Future Doesn't Exist

Managing our fulfliment, not our time, is the key to a better future.

DESSERT // BY ZACH IMHOLTE

I had more time, but I was less fulfilled. What was I missing?

It's been a year and some change since the United States (US) closed its borders due to COVID-19. What a whirlwind.

My wedding was planned for New York, not a week later. After frantically scrambling to find flights that would get me back in before the borders closed, I managed to catch a flight back to the US from South Africa for myself and one from Germany to the US for my fiancé.

We landed in Chicago on March 13th at 4 PM, 8 hours before the borders closed. And, of course, the courthouse was closed, so we had to track down an officiant from Indiana on Google who could marry us. We got married (socially distant, of course) in the pouring rain in the middle of the parking lot of the science museum.

Don’t tell me romance is dead.

COVID slowed everything down. I realized I had been “homeless” for the past four years. And unlike my childhood, it was company-sponsored; I was being paid for it. My job had me in a different country every few months. So, naturally, I lived out of hotels for four years straight.  In fact, in 2019, I spent 300 nights in Marriott hotels and 35 nights sleeping on overnight flights.  I was so busy, and I optimized my life to save 20 minutes anywhere I could.  I carried only a backpack and a small carry-on to avoid waiting for a suitcase at baggage claim.  I carried my entire life around in my hands. To save time. To achieve more. COVID changed all that.  

Instead of moving to a new country every few months, I spent all of my time in the same place.  All travel had stopped. I finally had leisure time, and yet I knew I was missing something. But what? What was I missing?

My wife, Catarina, and I holding our wedding licence. Chicago, IL.

Sixty years from now, the only person who will remember how many weekends I worked will be my spouse, not my boss.

I was pursuing my future to the exclusion of all else.

I have always been pursuing a better future for myself. At nine years old, I promised myself I would leave the confines of poverty and never return. So I threw myself into my work.

As a driving force of outcomes in my organization, I’d always felt powerful in this domain. Focus, getting things done, and grit - all traits that enabled me to accomplish the goals I set for myself. I reveled in my ability to produce.  I felt successful.  I believed that I utilized my time better than most everyone else. I thought I was winning. But I was wrong.

Working and traveling those four years, I internalized the wisdom handed down from the industrial revolution: productivity above all else; optimize your schedule for more output. I stripped all the unnecessary baggage out of my life: clothes, books, relationships.  While I intentionally limited my wardrobe to 20 articles of clothing, I unintentionally failed to prioritize many friendships that I cherished. 

Growing up in poverty, the financial anxieties I carried deep within me overpowered all else; I focused on being good at work, to the exclusion of all else. I spent those four years investing in my financial future, terrified of my financial past. 

My partner was the shining light in my life for those four years. We had it pretty good: because I was traveling all the time for work, we had the opportunity to go on many trips we would never have been able to otherwise. Hardworking herself, she always supported me when I would prioritize work over enjoying the places we were. It didn’t matter if we were in Chile, China, or Brazil: I would spend all of my time working with our customers or working in my hotel room.

I should have been much more balanced. Sixty years from now, the only person who will remember how many weekends I worked will be my spouse, not my boss. So what do I do about it? How does one live a good life? I will spend the rest of my life answering this question.  For now, I am focusing on what I call my “present...

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