Building the Future

Not taking the future for granted.

“The future will be a time when the world looks different from today”

Zero to One, Peter Thiel

I’d never really thought much about the concept of ‘time’ in tenses beyond a simple categorization of past, present and future.

The past is simply what’s happened, the present is now, what’s happening, and the future is what is yet to come.

This is probably the most common way to think of it.

You’ll find lots of cute little quotes about this stuff, essentially saying the same thing.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why we call it the present”

I won’t say much about the past beyond that I’d rather die to the past.

If it was good, that’s great, but I wouldn’t live in it anymore – appreciate it, but realize it’s over now.

If it sucked, then move on. Don’t spoil the present and waste the future because of the past. That’s the sunk cost fallacy, when you let past events determine future ones – like watching a shitty movie just because you already paid money for the ticket, in essence saying that because you already wasted your money on it, you’ll now waste your time as well.

The present matters.

In some ways, it’s ‘all you have’ – the past is gone, and the future is tentative, but this moment is real, and will never come back.

But it can’t be everything, because if it was, then why not pursue every whim, why not chase instant gratification?

The answer to that is the future – the understanding that a short run optimum is not necessarily a long run optimum – there’s a difference between a local maximum and a global maximum of a function.

It’s about second order consequences, balancing short term pleasure and long term pleasure.

Perennially putting off pleasure for the future, always delaying gratification isn’t a great choice either, because the future is after all tentative, circumstances change – you can die before the retirement you’ve saved up all your life for.

Anyways, this essay is about the future, inspired by an idea in Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

The Future

“The future will be a time when the world looks different from today”

Zero to One, Peter Thiel

It’s a way of looking at something very familiar in a different light.

The idea of ‘future’ is something I’d always taken for granted, and I think most people do.

“In the most minimal sense, the future is simply the set of all moments yet to come. But what
makes the future distinctive and important isn’t that it hasn’t happened yet, but rather that it will be a time when the world looks different from today. In this sense, if nothing about our society changes for the next 100 years, then the future is over 100 years away. If things change radically in the next decade, then the future is nearly at hand.”

Zero to One

The typical way to think about the future is what I outlined earlier – the moments yet to come.

What does that mean?

It means you take the future for granted.

The future will ensue inevitably.

You don’t have to do anything.

It’ll come about, because time passes by literally every second, and brings the future to us. We don’t have to work for it.

It’s how you describe a point of time T, and a point in the future T + ΔT – it’s taken for granted the latter is the future.

That’s not how Thiel describes the future.

The future will be a time when things are different from today.

I’ve replaced ‘the world’ with things for a reason I’ll come to later.

But the point is that you can’t take the future for granted.

It won’t just come to us without our working for it.

Individual and Collective

This applies at an individual level and a global level.

It’s likely that for a long periods throughout history, little changed for humans over centuries.

You could have been born one day, or a thousand years later, and your life would pretty much have been the same.

In that sense, the future hadn’t come about, because the world looked the same. The future was still thousands of years away.

And maybe you could say that the changes in the world over the past decade or two have been so drastic that it really is the future.

It might appear to be just a span of a few years, but if you look back, you’d probably agree that the way you communicate, the work you do, the way you procure food or commute – everything’s different.

The future will be a time when things are different from today.

I used the word things, because this holds at an individual level as well.

The future will be a time when your life looks different from today.


If the future is a time when things are different from today, then the future is not just a function of time.

It doesn’t come about only by the passing of time.

If everyone in the world decided life was fine the way it was – there would be no future, even if we endured for a million more years.

The future is built – built by the creativity, dedication and drive of individuals.

A few of them create the future; the rest of us live in it and consume it. Those who build deserve all the respect in the world.

And for individuals, our future is built by us, built on each decision we make.

If you dream that you’ll be rich, or you’ll become a pro soccer player or a doctor – that future doesn’t come about on its own.

You don’t wake up one day to find yourself a millionaire.

You have to build that future, which means you have to work for it in the present.

The future is built in the present.

Balancing the Future and Present

Balancing the present and the future is not easy.

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” sums up the idea that you should optimize for the present.

“Delayed gratification” and “second order consequences” is one way of building the future in the present – that you might do something today you’d rather not have chosen to, or you skip doing something you want to today, because it’ll be better in the long run.

It’s doing or refraining from an action that might be pleasurable today but bring regret later.

It’s easy to end up with two different kinds of regrets, and I think both are common among different people.

There are many who spend their time chasing instant gratification, running after highs or just goofing off and later wish they hadn’t. Whether it’s failing to get a job because you didn’t put in efforts or binging on food and wishing you hadn’t become fat, it’s the same idea.

If you’re reading this you might be in the other camp, and have the opposite regret – that you ended up delaying gratification so long you never got any gratification.

That you tortured yourself doing things you didn’t like, whether it’s physical exercise or studying things you’re not interested in, or being stingy with money or not making time for friends – and now you didn’t enjoy the past, and the future isn’t as good as you expected it would be.

I think it’s possible to succeed in enjoying the present and building the future both.

One way is of course that you make time for both – work as well as play.

The other is you find the common intersection of the two. Finding work that is play for you.

In essence, if you have fun building the future, then there’s no difference between enjoying the present and building the future.

It’s probably much better too, because if you don’t enjoy building the future, you’re not likely to become great at it, and you’ll end up resenting your present as well by doing stuff that’s a drag.

Urgent – Important Tradeoff

Even if you know how to manage the present and build the future, it’s still not easy to actually do it.

That’s because there’s usually a tradeoff between the two.

Managing the present usually means handling the ‘urgent’ stuff – short term things to tide over day to day affairs. What gives apparently visible, tangible outcomes almost immediately – like cleaning your room or answering your mail.

The future is built with the ‘important’ stuff – long term things, things that have almost no visible tangible outcomes today. Like studying a subject you’re interested in for the sake of it, or learning a new instrument or skill.

The present has a tendency to take over life.

It’s the urgent things that demand our attention, that we think have to be done. Daily chores, work, and the necessities of living.

The urgent can easily take over the important, without your even being aware of it.

That’s because there’s no warning sign – when you handle the present – all the urgent things that crop up – everything goes well.

Until you wake up a decade or two later and realize you’re exactly where you were before, because you never spent time on what’s ‘important’ – building the future.

Sort of like a company that never looks beyond its quarterly results, never investing in long-term goals or R&D. Eventually someone who played a longer game will take over.

Whereas, ‘important’ stuff – things you do for the long-term future – are even harder to pursue.

That’s because they usually demand much more time, energy and focus than short term stuff – you can answer your mail without thinking too much, but reading or writing require far more concentration.

And even more because they appear completely irrational.

You invest lots of your time, you give up a lot of other things you could be doing – and all for what?

For something that appears, at least to others, to have absolutely no use for you as of today. The opportunity cost is immense – perhaps you could be doing a lot of other ‘urgent’ stuff today in the present which would give you immediate, visible and tangible results.

So most people won’t understand why you bother, and you risk looking weird, if not stupid in their eyes. Which means that you need a lot of dedication if you’re going to keep at it.

And above all, what’s hardest about the ‘important’ stuff is that it is in essence about building the future – which is never certain, or in other words, never without risk, the possibility of failure.

There’s a very real possibility, and I think in most cases, it’s more than a possibility, it’s a probability – that nothing will come of it.

Because building the future is not easy; if it was anybody could do it.

And because it’s not easy, there’s a good chance you won’t make it.

It’s nice to tell yourself that nothing’s a waste, you ‘learned’ something or gained something from it anyway, but I think that’s a delusion. You’d have gained and learned from nearly anything you pursued with the same time and energy.


Now add these things up, and you see why there’s perhaps nothing more difficult in the world than building the future, than doing something you consider important, something that is of no visible use to anyone else today.

  1. You’ll have to put a huge amount of time and effort – much more than you need for urgent, ‘useful’ things.
  2. There’s a very real opportunity cost – all this time and effort could have been used in the present for the urgent stuff.
  3. There’s little to no tangible outcome of all that effort in the present. Which means your present outcomes suffer – if you’d focused solely on the present, you would probably get more immediate output by redirecting the effort you’re currently putting on important things.
  4. Because of these, you’re unlikely to get much active encouragement, and you’ll be lucky simply to not face discouragement.
  5. There’s a real chance it will all come to nothing and be a ‘waste’. And that uncertainty creates self-doubt, sometimes making you question whether you shouldn’t just give up and stay in the present.

For all these reasons, I think what you need more than anything else is hope.

Hope means two things here – optimism and agency.

Optimism is the belief that things can get better; it’s not the belief that goods things always happen.

It’s hope that the future can be even better than the present – because if you thought the present was as good as it can get, why look to the future? Make the most of the present, this is the peak – it’s flat or downhill from here.

And if you’re pessimistic, you’ll think that the present sucks, and the future won’t be any different, so there’s no point trying to build it.

Optimism is not enough though.

You also need agency, the belief that what you do matters, you can influence outcomes, and therefore you do have responsibility for your situation.

You might believe that the future will be better than the present, but if you didn’t have hope that you could contribute to building the future, why would you bother working to build it? That’s where agency comes in.

Hope is powerful because it can move mountains, without it nothing would be possible.

But just being powerful doesn’t make something robust.

Powerful things can be fragile, and it’s especially easy to lose hope about your future, because the future is by its definition unseen and unknowable as of now.

Which makes it all the more important to shield and nurture hope.

Understanding compounding is one way to keep hope alive.

That a mountain looks gigantic and insurmountable is only natural and expected.

But that’s no reason to give up, looking at it and wondering how you can ever scale it.

I think that’s what we tend to do a lot of the time – because we only see the finished product, not the raw material and the processing it goes through.

You look at someone – a billionaire entrepreneur, a famous artist, a renowned academic, a sportsperson – anyone near the top of their league – and wonder how you could ever get there.

It’s like comparing you – the guy standing at the base of the mountain, with them – the guy at the peak.

Of course there’s going to be a difference if you compare the raw material with the final product.

But they were also somewhere at the base once, maybe not exactly where you are, but nearabout.

If you look only at the footholds right in front of you, if you just keep climbing one step at a time, you can still make progress.

It might not be the same peak, but it’ll still be higher than where you were before.

The steps compound to create a mountain, just as days compound to create the future.

Or you can just choose to give up, believing that the mountain’s too big to climb.

That means that the future will be the same as the present.

This thought can also be a powerful motivator – if you understand that the price of stopping, of turning back, means that decades from now you’ll still be at the same spot.

If that’s not acceptable, then you might as well keep climbing – because then at least there’s a chance, even if it’s a tiny one, of reaching the future. Stopping is a guarantee you won’t reach it.

Balancing the Clouds and the Ground

There will always be a trade-off between optimizing the present and the future, between a local maximum and a global one.

If you only focused on the present, you’d probably achieve your highest outcomes – but perhaps you might cut off prospects for growth.

Again, like a firm getting great quarterly results, but not being able to invest in launching new products – because that requires diverting resources, which hurts today’s results.

If you have an eye on the future, it means you take your eyes away from what’s right before you, the present – and therefore you consciously don’t give the present your all.

But you can’t only exist in the future, because you live in the present, so you have to give it its due. If you mess up the present, if you don’t take care of the urgent, there won’t be any future to build.

Marginal utility seems to work best here. If you can get good results with 1 hour of work, and only slightly better results with 10 hours of work, why not accept good rather than go for best? You can put those 9 hours into something you consider of more value.

Obviously, there’s no compelling reason to move towards the future if you don’t want to.

If the future is a time when things are different from today, and if you’re exactly where you want to be and you don’t want things to be different, you can try your best to stay in the present.

The future then is an extension of the present.

Otherwise, if you want things to be different, you have to work to make them different, but also make sure you take care of the present.

In essence, your head might be in the clouds, but your feet should be on the ground.


Sweta Tripathi

Life is a farrago of reality and dream ,reality is present and dream carries the possibilities to be tomorrow’s present … all it demands for is peaceful mind who knows the art of balancing the past and the future with the help of present “grounded soul”…

Jamshedji TATA is the true example of this who successfully turned his dream into a tangible stuff , there were times when obviously he also faced the problems,doubts but his efforts were more stronger than those obstacles and today his maneovre is providing livelihood to many people..

Thankyou Pratyush sir for always enlightening us…..


Sir ji you are the best!


Ever felt like giving up in cases where u can’t be sure whether u’ll reach the highest peak, and don’t want to settle for any 2nd highest peak either. So an inertia builds up,why to even start, when highest one can’t be yours.

“might not be the same peak, but it’ll still be higher than where you were before”

I very much agree with your statement. It’s better to start somewhere rather than just keep standing and staring from one place.

Still in the situation as mentioned in the initial lines, what should be one’s ideal mindset/strategy according to u?


Thnku ajeeta for ur insights 🙂


Haha. Again thnx for your concern🤭.

Well, I have always believed and followed whatever u mentioned. Almost all material under self help genre, says the same stuff. Seems to be most logical too,for obvious reasons.

Usually it’s good (lessens intensity of hr8 break) if one diversify their areas of excellence(different peaks, whether sequential or simultaneous) . However, the time gets divided too, so does your opportunity to gain expertise. So it becomes a dicey choice sometimes.


No, why would you care about that? How does it make any difference if someone is at a higher peak?
If you really believed that, you’d never do anything – there’s always someone who’s better at you at something.
It’s just an excuse to rot where you are – ‘perfect is the enemy of good’. For those who spend more time coveting what others have rather than looking at themselves.
You could instead just look at where you were before and where you are today.

Tiwari ji

Eyes opener


Tbh,I never mentioned about “someone”.Of course, there will always be someone better than u.

By highest peak (i meant our highest possible expectation).There is a possibility that quite a number of people hold that place simultaneously.

When one is not able to reach their expectations and dont wish to settle for anything less either. Still, find themselves hanging somewhere in between. This stuff saps off all the energy sometimes to start with another high expectation again.

Maybe, I didn’t frame the sentences correctly.

Anyways, it is still an “excuse” at the end of the day.

Lowering your expectation and making it more realistic is actually more painful when you are used to meeting them most of the times.

Ragini Rawat

I just wanted to let you know that in therapy (or psychotherapy if you will) the Coping skills are very broadly categorized into either Distraction technique or Tools/Technique that helps us to better process all that we may be feeling (so not distraction rather actively engaging in processing that scrambled egg of emotions).. and your writings just work sooooo well for both of them.. like some of the essays totally help me as a distraction from current fuzzy situation at hand.. and some of them help me cut right through emotions. So thank you!
Happy writing! 🙂

Madhav Yagnik

Learned a lot From these thank you.


I have a few questions-

  1. How do you handle hedonic adaptation, because you need to continue to improve (which becomes harder with each improvement as requires more effort) to sustain pleasure/happiness?
  2. Have you moved beyond happiness and focused on other pleasant emotions like fun, curiosity, etc.
  3. How do you handle the monkey brain (when it supersede the rational brain and goes for instant gratification particularly when you are low on energy)

Also, second brain movement seems to be the next level of productivity jump to efficiently manage your goals and desires. if anybody is interested, they can check it on youtube.


1. I don’t have this problem, perhaps because I haven’t reached that stage yet. Anyways if you like what you do, I don’t think you face that issue. I’m sure the additional gains always level off – it’s hard to imagine a Federer improving his game at the same rate throughout, but people still enjoy playing for its own sake.
2. I didn’t get this. I think they’re subsets of happiness, almost different words for the same thing.
3. This one is harder to answer.
From the Enchiridion:
“If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it; but let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time: that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it; and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain. And even though it should appear to you a seasonable gratification, take heed that its enticing, and agreeable and attractive force may not subdue you; but set in opposition to this how much better it is to be conscious of having gained so great a victory”
This is one way, visualizing second order consequences, what the passage above talks about –

The other is context switching, when you’re saturated with one thing go do something different.

The first of these requires some sort of willpower.
There’s another way, I think Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking is based on it, I’m not sure though.
In essence it’s understanding what you’re doing. If it’s good for you, then why not keep doing it everyday? If it wasn’t, then why do you want to do it at all? It’s based on eliminating the desire if it’s not one you really want – something I think is more effective than willpower or suppression or discipline.
Also requires being conscious of what you’re doing, else you drift off if you’re not.


I now do things according to the last suggestion. After understanding key ideas of Nietzsche like “eternal recurrence“, “beyond good and evil“, “three stages of metamorphism” the last kind of thought is the natural outcome.

I am yet not able to fully understand “Amor fati”, I get that there are necessary sufferings to get your desired outcome and you can accept that but how can you love that? can you explain the loving part (“not merely accept it but love it”)?

Yesterday I had an aha moment when I realized

my failing lies not in lack of knowledge but due to lack of energy.

I had known what I wanted to do and was happy while doing it but I sometimes fall into this vicious cycle when low on energy. Also, I have realized that

Its easier to stop in the beginning of something ( eg tv series), it gets tougher with time. If you can’t stop in the beginning you will not stop later.

I once asked you about the expansion of the reading list. I think I was looking at the wrong thing. what I needed was to improve my energy level rather than my knowledge and I also believe that it’s the same problem for other smart people as well. Perhaps they are looking at the wrong thing as well.

Also, I think most of your blog posts are a natural thought process after understanding the key ideas of Nietzsche.


For Prelims- focusing on the static part, through analysis of PYQs, and not worrying about useless current affairs have worked really well for me.

if you focus on the static part more- you can integrate pre and mains

other than this streamlining effort like I have done here GS Notes saves a lot of time. My notes, PYQ, and the related current affairs are synchronized and remove duplication of efforts and directed focus.

Ajay yadav

Hey, this is very intelligent.


Hi Pratyush, questions if you can answer.(TIA)

1. I read a youtube comment made by a person knowing you, since your internship days – that you behave normal or calmer even during pressure situations. How do you handle stressful or pressure situations ? What is the thought process behind it.

2. How do you handle words like intelligent, born-talent, gifted attached to your identity ? Do you have any attached identity of yourself in your mind ?

3. Does frameworks help you in thinking ? As I noticed, you always tried to break down every essay into different parts. How do you break down these difficult thing’s in simplest manner ? I’m avoiding word easy, as it may or may not be.


1. It’s probably just a comment made in hindsight. When someone seems to have achieved some recognition, people try to remember all sorts of things about them. Anyways, keep the worst before you – it’s not the end of the world usually, that helps in any situation. Usually the consequences are trivial in the extreme.

2. You can handle it easily if you try to know what you really are.
I know that’s either flattery or misconception in my case.
Flattery is simple. It’s not meant sincerely, only intending to make you feel good.
Misconception is genuine but arises because of an illusion that you’ve done something great by cracking an exam or two.
Ofc it’ll seem that way to others, more so to those who haven’t done it, but those who have know better. Things are different on the inside than it seems from outside, so I don’t expect anyone who isn’t in the same position to understand.
No false modesty either. That’s just as much a distortion from the truth, only in a different direction.
So I’d consider myself above average in these things but I try not to have any illusions either.
Everyone has some identity of themselves in their mind, if someone says they haven’t ever thought about themselves then they’ve probably never utilized their brain.
Trying to have an accurate picture, and trying to keep it updated helps.

3. Practice. Google MECE – mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.
Try to identify the underlying assumptions in any claim. That’s how you know how valid any reasoning is. Above all, know what assumptions you make when you make any claims. Beware of people who claim to spout grand truths and don’t even know what their claims are based on.


Thank you so much.🙌

SN Sanyal

Sir please also write about your experience in IAS if possible. I am sure many people will be interested in knowing how you solve the challenges involved with administration of the most populous state in the world.

vaishnavi kannoori

This reshaped my perspective. I’m very happy after reading this and I feel like I have a clear head now. Thank you for writing this up! Kudos to you and your thoughts.