Learning from your future

Weather vane

A time of change pushes us to take decisions based on incomplete information and without knowing how things are going to turn out.

Two tools that can help us get better at this are learning from people we admire and learning from our pastA third tool is learning from our future.

This has two parts.

Part One: The Voice of Experience

As we get older we generally become wiser. For example, you could probably offer some wise advice now to your 16-year-old or 20-year-old self.

Take a couple of minutes now to do this. It is a useful exercise:

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give to your 16- year-old or 20-year-old self?

When you have done this, ask yourself: would you be willing to listen to that advice?

And now, ask yourself if you are willing to listen to the advice of your 86-year-old self.

Part Two: A Worthwhile Life

One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is to, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Peter Drucker said it is important to “Define what finishing well means to you.”

Defining now what finishing your life ‘well’ looks like will help you to achieve what matters most to you.

To do this, imagine yourself aged 86. Then answer this question:

What will it take for you to have lived a worthwhile life? 

Define between six and eight categories or areas of life that are important to you. List them now.

I’m not going to make any suggestions. This is entirely for you to decide.

We all come here for a short time. We live for maybe 70 or 80 years if we are lucky. What would it look like for you to have made good use of this time?

There are then a couple of ways that you can use the answers.

  • First, you can define under each category where you want to get to by the time you are 86. Then, whenever you need to take a decision based on little information and without knowing how things are going to turn out, you can simply ask yourself which option will lead you more towards achieving what a worthwhile life looks like to you and do that.
  • Second, starting from where you are now, you could ask yourself what actions over the next week, month, or year might be appropriate-sized steps to take you from where you are now towards where you want to be when you are 86.

Remember that we are all human becomings and a churning world is bound to be unpredictable. The point isn’t whether or not we achieve our objectives. The point is to know the priorities that matter most to us and then to make the best choices we can, in an imperfect changing world.

In a changing world we can’t control whether or not we reach our destination. But we can control the way we make our journey.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

What advice you would give now to your 16-year-old or 20-year-old self? Are you willing to listen to the advice of your 86-year-old self? What does a worthwhile life look like to you?


Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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