Looking for the next best thing

Published 8:44 pm Friday, August 8, 2014

By Rep. Randy Forbes

The aisle shelves displayed bags of candy corn and plastic pumpkins just steps away from the packs of college-ruled paper and oversized pencil banners pointing down to rows of school supplies.

We are just a few days into the month of August, before many people have even started back-to-school shopping, and stores are already pulling out the Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations.

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I don’t know about you, but it seems the time for enjoying one season or holiday at a time is getting shorter and shorter.

As a society, we’re constantly looking for the next best thing. The next holiday. The next version of our favorite product. The next episode of our favorite television show.

We live in a society where technology changes rapidly, social media feeds are updated instantly, new safety recommendations are released continuously, and there is a general push towards new, bigger or smarter.

In the midst of all this searching for the next best thing, I am reminded of the valuable lessons that come by focusing on the now.

As a kid, I used to watch my dad tinker with the television. When it stopped working, he didn’t run out to the store and replace it with a new one. Dad tried to fix it. If he couldn’t fix it, he called the television repairman.

His generation expected to get the most out of the things they had. Furniture not only lasted the life of many families, but was passed on to children who sometimes refinished it to look better than it did originally. Instead of throwing away a plastic milk jug, a milkman sanitized and reused glass bottles that were delivered to the front door.

People appreciated what they had, and they wanted to make the most out of it.

Over the past few decades, we’ve moved further and further away from a present mentality to one where we are relentlessly asking: “What’s next?”

Some of it is trivial — like binge-watching television episodes on Netflix, because you can’t bear to wait to see what happens.

But some of it is important. I remember watching the news two years ago just hours after the last presidential election had ended. The words ticked across the bottom of the screen: “Who will run in 2016?” There was no discussion about getting to work now, or how we might build consensus to address some of the major challenges facing our nation — only talk about who would be next.

It is almost exhausting, but more important, it often takes us from the task at hand. If we’re so busy looking ahead to the next best thing, how are we supposed to appropriately tackle the challenges that face us today?

We can’t tackle our debt without first acknowledging our spending today. We can’t assume our military will be ready for future challenges and not address critical shortfalls today. We can’t look ahead to a good jobs report without first addressing regulations on businesses today.

This is not to say that planning ahead isn’t important. I have advocated strongly for better long-range planning.  I believe operating on a plan gives shape and purpose to our future, both as individuals and as a nation. However, there is a difference between the earnest planning for the future and the culture of throwing away the now in unbridled expectation of the next.

We can’t fail to see what we have or where we are today; doing so breeds mediocrity. Real growth happens when we deal with the now and do what we need to do, instead of waiting or hoping for the next best thing.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.