Last week I was running down the beach for a bit and turned around to head back to my apartment a few miles back. A 13-story structure that from a distance appeared to be within an arm’s reach. Hot and tired, it occurred heading back that I had a few options to think about as I ran. It seemed like it was going to an uncomfortable trip back when I viewed it as the final goal, but when I lowered my sight to the sand in front of me, the waves hitting and cooling me down, I seemed to no longer care about the distance or the heat. My thoughts began to explore the task ahead of me, and how far I had run.

It was no different than life itself, the past, present and future.

Then I wondered if all this goal setting stuff I was brought up on, the books, the talk and the actual practices were really all that smart as a life plan. What if we missed too much in life by setting goal after goal? What if we lost track of the moments and the past while we set our sights so far into the future? Could there be a more balanced worthwhile way to go through life?

The thought of Einstein, Edison, Gates and Jobs came to mind. What if they looked down instead of forward? What if the Wright brothers just lived for the moment? Where would we all be? I guess others would have made the same inventions at some point in time. I again wondered if maybe the answer was that for those special people, looking forward was their sacrifice in life to give all the rest of us the results of their creation. But maybe us common folks needed to find a better balance between looking ahead, directly in front, and behind?

That’s it. That explained my fascination with the past. Nothing really mattered unless you had a reference to our past to relate to. Our family, friends, teachers, homes, cars, most everything we lived with provided cherished memories that we would revisit throughout our lives.

Then there was the future, a carefully measured plan or goal that we must make sure we never allowed to overtake our lives, since chasing it as our primary purpose in life would leave little in our souls to enjoy the most precious part of it all, the PRESENT.

Like the water splashing and cooling me as I ran, the present was what life truly was about. As you concentrate on it, you are living. The conversation with your friends, your kids, your customers, everything in the moment that lets you know you’re alive. The hugs, the touch, the smell and the comfort of knowing that you own the moment. It could be the final 1000 feet of a run, the welcoming of someone you haven’t seen for a long time, or just a kind gesture to help somebody in need. The pleasure of reading a book, shedding a tear or even sailing through a terrible storm.

My feeling is that each and every one of us has a different balance of how to live their lives. Some must spend more time on goals and forsake the present, while some must lose the past to hide difficult and painful memories. There is no formula to picking the balance, but I know that adjusting for the right mixture is critical to living happy and fulfilled. Pick the wrong balance and life never seems to be right.

That short run explained a lot to me, and I wondered how my balance was formed, by accident or was it learned?

Too much focus on the future will certainly leave you with little time to live life to its fullest. It may cause continuous pain as you see unfulfilled dreams always just beyond your reach. Too many people I have known reached too far out, but were not given the time needed. They spent their years on the quest, but lost out to the cruel reality of life’s unpredictable course.

So what do I know? I love the memory of my mom and me on the beach in Far Rockaway. I love the memory of the voice of my brother in-law Jerry screaming about stupid people. I love the memories of my niece’s husband George’s cooking, and of course I love the memory of all the time spent with my friends and family. The appreciation of the past allows me to extract every bit of love and wonderful times from the present, which is the purpose of the past, and memories. The future? I know I have set goals that have kept me alive and energized, but have not taken me away from the present. The future, the goals, in the right dose is like having just the right amount of coffee in the morning, just enough to make things happen fast, but not so much as to make one crazy (ok, I have been known to drink way too much and get crazy).

I don’t know much, but closing in on 60 I sure learned how to live. The past will become a larger part of my daily thoughts, the future smaller, but the one thing that will not change until my last breath is the present. That is the gift God gave us all, don’t lose sight of it.

Larry