How To Gain a Clear Picture of Your Future Self

I haven’t been myself lately. 

The unrelenting madness at work over the past couple of years has taken a toll. I decided I needed some time to clear the storm clouds that have gathered inside my mind. I realised I’d been too close to everything at work. 

So, I called the doc and went on longterm stress leave.

After a few weeks of playing with my children and otherwise ignoring the news and anything work related, I deiced to sit down and address these clouds – the repeated thoughts about leaving my profession and Hong Kong – and map out a flight plan for my diversion. 

When I did, two questions kept popping up. Those were:

  • Who am I? 
  • Who do I want to become?

As fate would have it – after stewing on those questions for a while – I read a BBC article about the importance of imaging your future self. It noted, “a large number of psychological studies over the past decade have shown those who struggle to imagine their future selves as a continuation of the person that they are today, tend to be less responsible.” 

This caused me to sit up straight. I thought, that’s it! I’ve lost sight of my future self. The picture has become blurred. So long as my future self remains a stranger to me – so long as I think of him as someone different to the person I am today – I will remain rudderless in the present.

After reflecting on this I decided to follow the advice that same article gave – to write a letter to my future self 20 years from now describing what is most important to me today and what my plans are for the coming decades. 

So, I thought long and hard about my values and wrote out this letter. And then, I wrote a second one. A reply from my future self. I found it to be an extremely powerful exercise. One that brought that picture back into sharp focus, that has allowed me find my bearings again in the present. 

Aside from clarifying my values, it helped me look at everything that is happening from a longer term perspective – to understand another mistake I’d been making.

All that has happened, everything that has led me to this significant crossroads in my life – I’ve been telling myself it represents a diversion from the person I thought I was supposed to become, from the person I believed I was. 

But that’s not true. As my future self put it, 

“The values that are causing you to reconsider your future aren’t taking you away from the person you thought you were meant to be, they are driving you back towards the person you already are - the person you’ve always been at heart. I promise - if you place faith in him - he will take you exactly where you want to go. 
That's because - if you do - you'll see there is nowhere you have to go, no place you have to be, no thing you have to do. You’ve already arrived. You’re already exactly where you’re meant to be. You’re already the person you’re meant to become.
Your only problem is that you’re fighting him - you’re fighting who you already are. But he will win this fight. He must. And you must let him. You must place your faith in the person you already are.”

After writing this out, I felt this wave of calm wash over me. I saw my future self smiling back at me. As if he knows, this is the moment that I’ve come to understand something incredibly important for both his sake and mine. 

It’s this thought – this insight – that I want to leave you with to reflect on:

The only way to gain a clear picture of the person you are meant to become is to stop fighting who you already are. 

***

You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot


24 thoughts on “How To Gain a Clear Picture of Your Future Self

  1. Beautifully, powerful and inspiring! Thank you, AP2 for opening up this window into your process and all the wisdom you are gaining with each step of the way!

  2. I agree with both of the first two comments, with a caveat. We can’t take the “future self” too seriously. No one has that kind of crystal ball. Whatever we envision, life will throw a pitch that we can’t expect.

    1. Great point. I think if you take your future self too seriously you reject who you currently are. I believe that’s exactly what I was doing. Thanks for your thoughts Vic 🙏

  3. I truly agree with your idea. most of us are trying to fight and ignore our current selves. Accepting our current situation helps us to know exactly that this is where we are supposed to be. And it gives us the courage and faith to venture out more of who we are supposed to be

    Much thanks to you for this great reminder.

    1. Precisely. We take our future selves too seriously. In doing so reject who and where we currently are. Thank you for adding your thoughts/your kind words. Wishing you well 🙏

  4. Beautiful insights, AP2! I remember that once I also wrote a letter to my future self. Since then I moved twice, but I am sure that it is somewhere in one drawer. I am so curious to know what I wrote in 2015, I remember clearly the year because I was going through a tough time, I was also very much stressed because of my job. someone advised me to write (and send, but I didn’t send it) a letter to my future self. I have an objective for the next days. Thank you for reminding it to me with your post.

    1. I think I might make a habit of writing to my future self. I found it extremely clarifying. Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts Cristiana. I’m glad it served as a useful reminder 🙏

  5. As I approached 18, I was expecting some miraculous transformation into an adult, some different person. It never happened. I am still the same 3-year-old girl climbing the willow tree in her mother’s sweater and falling to the ground. I still like finding pictures in the clouds and eating chocolate. We are always ourselves, even when we become a pilot, a teacher, a writer or a parent. You are still the little boy who enjoys building things with Legos.

    AP, I found this post to be very touching and also very insightful. I feel your struggles, and I applaud you for sharing strategies helpful to all of us as we move forward.

    All the best! <3

    1. Thank you Cheryl. It’s been a difficult time but I’m muddling my way through it. I believe you’re right. Those of us that feel lost – like we don’t know who we are suppose to be – is more a case of forgetting who we always were. My hope in sharing these struggles is to let others know they are not alone. I try to share advice I’ve found particularly helpful myself. Thank you for your kind words as always Cheryl 🙂🙏

  6. Hmmm….I think in my case, I have no trouble at all imagining an aspirational future self, however,
    1) Aspirational future self is really not an extension of existing self.
    2) I am not good at the goal-setting and goal-achieving required to get to aspirational self.
    3) I’m afraid to imagine a realistic future self because Realistic Future Self seems disappointing.

    1. I think the point is to imagine a better version of your current self – not a completely different person. Work on improving your weaknesses and playing to your current strengths/likes. Trying/wishing you were someone/something else doesn’t work – at least not in my experience. I wouldn’t worry too much about the goals either. Focus on the processes that embody your personally held values. The most important part is enjoying the journey – enjoying today – not achieving anything in the long run. I firmly believe that to be true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙏

  7. This is so well written. Focusing all our energy upon a future self, we have forgotten how to be who we actually are in the present and are constantly unhappy with ourselves at this point of time. The future will unfold gradually and when it happens, it will happen, and our present will take us there like the past brought us to the present. Haven’t we often found ourselves claiming that a certain incident in the past, a fact we were unhappy about then, seems like a blessing now.

    1. I realise that although I want a different future to the one I originally envisioned for myself – that doesn’t mean I should reject the present. The only thing we can be certain of is the here and now. You’re absolutely right about how we look back at hardships and often come to see them as a blessing. I believe I will see this time in my life as exactly that. Thank you so much for your kind words. Wishing you well 🙂🙏

      1. Absolutely the present is laying the foundation for a future, and like you expressed embracing it will make it easier and happier 🙂

    2. I think the trick is to see your future self as a continuation of the person you already are. That means accepting that person. Do that and I believe things will start to make more sense. So true about our past pains. They often come to define us/so we become grateful for them. Thanks again Parikhit. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on so many of my posts. I’m glad they resonated 🙏

      1. Oh absolutely! A continuation of the person we already are. I don’t think anybody could have summarized it better.
        I truly am glad to read your posts and discover so much wisdom in them! 🙂

  8. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing that exercise of writing a letter to your future self. I feel super inclined to try it as well. Thanks for sharing your struggle and introspection. It’s inspiring to read you working through the hardships, and allowing us to learn with you.

    1. Thank you ashjones. It’s an exercise that’s well worth the time! I do hope by sharing my struggles/vulnerabilities it can inspire/help others. To let them know they aren’t alone at least. I really appreciate your kind words. 🙏

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