When my kids were born I created email addresses for them in order to launch tidbits of their childhood into the future; I send short notes detailing their antics every so often. I like to think they’ll be read at least 20 years from now, the hope being that the more time elapses, the more powerful they’ll be when retrieved.
It has never occurred to me to send such notes to myself. My children’s futures are no less than Xanadu; mine is best contemplated with a stiff drink in hand.
I don’t think I’m alone here. The question of just how much people want to wrestle with their own future came up repeatedly at PT in thinking about whether and how to write about our future selves. Everyone can identify with the concept of self-reinvention, but not everyone can grapple with a future self, though by definition we’ve all got one. With the predictability of a broken New Year’s resolution, our editorial discussions circled back to one question: “Can people think strategically about a chimerical self when they’re just struggling to get through the week?”
And here's a question that's been on my mind ever since we started talking about future selves: What feels further away, your early childhood or a period commensurately far in the future? An unfair question, perhaps, since childhood has entered the log of recorded history and the future is terra incognita. But for me, at life's actuarial midpoint, the past is incredibly present and while I know that the future will arrive at a an ever-quickening clip, subjectively speaking, the urge to discount it is deep. For most of our ancestral history that bias was adaptive.
It is future discounting that often stands in the way of self-reinvention or a future focus of any sort. The ambitious question, then, is whether correctives to our future-focusing flaws, outlined with increasing rigor by psychologists and decision-making scientists of all stripes, could become as widespread as are strategies to boost willpower and grit, our culture’s cognitive obsessions du jour.
Personally, I’m equal parts enamored of and daunted by the concept of a future self. For me as for other present-moment hedonists/procrastinators/perfectionists/pragmatists, the “urgent” far too often trounces the essential. If this sounds familiar, you'll want to read Reinvent Yourself.