Your Future Self

Pfeiffer Beach California

Image and text by Gabrielle.

I feel like I age in spurts — like I look the same for years at a time, then suddenly, over a few weeks, I look several years older. For example, I’m quite sure I could have passed for 20 until I was 25, then overnight, I looked like I was 25 — that sort of thing. And from what I can tell, I think I’m in one of my aging spurts right this minute. When it ends, I’ll tell you how old I look. Hah!

Late last night, I was taking off my makeup and taking out my contacts and chatting with Ben Blair about my possible aging spurt, and I asked him how he pictured his adult life when he was a kid or a teenager. I was curious to know how far into the future he had imagined himself. We both discovered that we hadn’t thought past 25. We had vaguely assumed a stereotypical life of kids, house, pet — but we had never considered what we ourselves would be like in our 30’s or beyond. It made me wonder if that is a typical thing for a child (not being able to conceive of a future self), or if there are people that have thought ahead to every stage of their someday life.

Ben mentioned he’d read something about this topic, so I looked it up — it’s an NPR article. Turns out, people that envision their future self tend to make better decisions now. Which makes sense, of course! If you can picture yourself as an 85-year-old, an actual person who has a weekly tennis match and is learning to speak Chinese, I can imagine you’d be more likely to take better care of your body today.

One quote from the article that stuck with me is: “…when we think about ourselves in the future we actually use the same part of our brain that we use when we think about a stranger.” To me, that says we honestly can’t imagine that we ourselves will really, truly age — a stranger will age, but not us. That we truly think we’ll be young (or at least our current age) forever. Fascinating!

So my questions for you are: How often, if ever, do you picture your future self? And as a child, did you ever consider the idea that someday you would be 35, or 46, or 57, or 78…? I’d love to know!

P.S. — I imagine this is true for most people, but I don’t really look in a mirror except during my morning and evening routines (and sigh, sometimes I skip the evening routine). This means I’m fairly regularly surprised when I look in the mirror and wonder, “Did I look like that all day?” Or, “When did that lovely little blemish arrive?” Tell me I’m not the only one! Are you ever surprised when you look in the mirror?

P.P.S — Yesterday was packed full of Alt Summit meetings and I didn’t get a chance to respond to your excellent comments about zero tolerance. But I’m off to do so now! Also, watch for a second Design Mom post later today.

102 thoughts on “Your Future Self”

  1. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately. I’m 47.

    My Grandma turns 98 this month. She is just now moving to a nursing home. Her eldest child is well into his 70’s and her youngest is 67. How amazing that they all have each other.

    I became a mom late. My daughter came when I turned 36 and my son when I turned 40. My heart hurts (really, physically hurts) when I think that we may not have each other for that long. I would love to age and age with them.

    My other thoughts on aging have been about feeling like I can’t believe I still have insecurities that I thought would be long gone. Or thinking of myself as the geeky girl who didn’t get picked first in gym class. THAT WAS OVER 30 YEARS AGO! They way we see ourselves can be fixed in time.

    I have seen pictures of myself lately and thought “I’ve changed. I’m changing. I look so much older. Who is that?” It is a disconnected feeling.

    I also feel like the same old me. In a good way.

    Facebook has changed the way I see aging. I am connected to people I knew long ago. High School friends. They are aging. I see it. But it must mean they see it in me too.

    It is all so odd.

    My Grandma got in touch with her very first boyfriend in High School a few year ago. He would have been well suited for her. Intellectual, smart, interesting. She married the jock instead. They were well suited for each other in a different way. When Louis sent her a letter she responded like a school girl. She blushed. She pined for those years. Instant flashback to old feelings. Time travel to her younger self.

    Right around the time my Grandma had her fall two months ago we got a letter from Louis’ son letting my Grandma know that Louis had just passed away. He found the letters from my Grandma to Louis in his desk. Two lifetimes flew by.

    I see my hands changing. My other Grandma died at 94 this summer. I looked at her hands a lot growing up. We made a lot of soup together. I watched her hands work. They always looked old. I wonder if my kids will think my hands always looked old.

    I do know that for 1/2 of last year that my son would announce with glee to anyone who would listen that his mom is 46 AND 1/2! He was very proud of my 1/2 and figured I would be too. Because he was 6 1/2.

    My Grandpa (the jock) had dementia before he died. At the home he lived in the would announce my mom’s age to anyone who would listen. Loudly. In a bellowing voice. My mom didn’t appreciate it. But to my Grandpa it was a huge accomplishment. He outlived every family member he could think of. His parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and brothers all died early. He was overjoyed to still be alive.

    And so it goes.

    And yes- I can’t stand the worry lines between my eyebrows. People think I’m angry all of the time. I’m just aging.

    1. I’ve read your comment twice, Pamela. I really enjoyed it. A couple years after my father died, my mother ran into her high school sweetheart. His wife had also died, and they started dating — and eventually married! (They even have prom pictures.)

      I thought of this when you mentioned your Grandmother blushing.

  2. What an interesting concept! I wonder if the media has something to do with our inability to conceive of ourselves as anything older than a twenty-something–especially as women. I recently read an article about the unrealistic demands placed on actresses…and women in the limelight more generally. It discussed how it’s acceptable for men to get older–they have noticeable wrinkles, grey hair(s), etc which are deemed attractive. Women on the other hand are either not cast at all if they are older (leading men in their late 40s usually have a 20 year old counterpart) or, if they do land a gig, women are photo-shopped out of reality until they look like a caricature of themselves. Anyway, that’s a bit of a random tangent but I think maybe it contributes to that stranger effect you were talking about and how we can’t picture ourselves growing old.

    1. I’ve read something similar, Autumn and find it very discouraging. I hope that trend can change. I loved seeing Sandra Bullock in Gravity — I hope her performance marks a new age!

  3. I was just talking about aging and maturing with my son yesterday. He noticed that as he matures he has gotten quieter and listened more to other people as opposed to being the one always talking in conversation. I asked him why he thought that? He wasn’t sure, he thought it was just him entering “puberty”. I smiled. Then as I was laying in my bed watching tv, I noticed I was really enjoying this program about baby boomers and the channel is geared more for that demographic and I noticed that I am aging and enjoying more things that my parents enjoy!

  4. I think growing up with Grandparents helps you picture what life is like when you’re older. Parents have the opportunity to help their children in this manner by hangin’ out with older folks. :) Kids naturally hang with their peers if they aren’t raised to honor, respect and cherish the older generation. If grandparents aren’t available, like in my childhood, there are always older neighbors, or elderly members of your church, or even nursing homes! My parents adopted an elderly neighbor as our “grandparents.” We were also homeschooled, so we were always in multi-generational groups. I think it helps have a broader perspective on life!

    I did not grow up with grandparents but my husband did. And boy, does he think of the future! He knew he wanted to be an engineer, so he went to college, graduated with a dual degree in record time, went on to get his masters, bought a house, proposed to me :), we got married, and now at 25 our lives look like most people’s at 30 or older. His foresight is a blessing.

    As a side note, weren’t we just talking about technology and how the younger generation is way beyond the older? Kids may know their gadgets better than their grands, but they need to know and see the wisdom of age in order to have a proper respect. Honoring your elders gives a certain humility and so many benefits to a child.

    Love this thought!

    1. I really like this addition to the conversation, Jessie. I hadn’t really thought of that, but I can see how it would be true. I lived in the same town as one set of my Grandparents, but I can imagine if they had been neighbors or had lived in our home, they’re influence on me would have been even stronger.

  5. This is such an intriguing topic! To be honest, I can only do about 4-5 years ahead of me. In fact, when I went to get married I was nearly paralyzed with fear thinking this was such a permanent decision. When I finally broke it down and told my then-fiancee I could do 4-5 years and see how it was going, I was fine! Of course we’ve been married 11+ years and I’m happy as a clam so I didn’t need an out, I just needed to think of it in shorter terms. Same goes with my 9 yr. old son. When he was a toddler, I could imagine him as far as kindergarten. But now that he’s in 4th grade, I can imagine him through middle school, but not much beyond that. It’s so weird but at the same time it takes some anxiety out of life for me.

  6. The first time I have truly imagined myself as an old woman was when I was picking out my engagement and wedding rings. I wanted something classic so I imagined something on hands like my grandmother’s.

    This concept is so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I don’t think I ever pictured myself at a certain age….it was more about what it would be like to live in a certain year….for example when I was a youth I though the year 2000 would be full of amazing “tech” type adventures and seemed so far away and would I really live that long?…but here I am and I view myself youngest =) (silly 12 year old self}
    I guess I always thought/think of what the year would bring not so much how I would age….maybe I should start =/
    Like right now the year 2020 I have great plans for travel and art.
    Happy Day

  8. I am in serious denial about aging. It’s interesting what you bring up, because I was thinking the other day about the fact that I’ll eventually get older and I started to panic a little. I’m not sure why, I guess it is that idea that older me is still a stranger to current me. I have found that ages that used to seem old (like 40 or 50) do not seem old at all anymore.

  9. When I was little, I thought up until age 30, and I only know that because I’d imagine my life in 2012. ;) I too imagined the stereotypical thing: meet a boy in college, get married, travel around for a few years, have a career, buy a house, have kids. What it was really like: I did go to college (and realize I’m still a child), travel around, finally found a job I like (though i wouldn’t call it a career), bought a house, and have a serious boyfriend and a dog, so… meh.

    It was funny, however, when 2013 happened, and it occurred to me that I never dreamed of that ever happening. Like, time didn’t stop or anything. Oy! Now I think of myself as an old lady (starting at 65 and still in the workforce, which horrifies me, and then as a real old lady in my 80s).

    1. Oh, and I remember the year 2020, because aside from sounding awesome, it would be the first year I’d be old enough to run for President. Haha! It was very important math to do in 1988.

  10. Yes, I’ve tried to envision myself 20 years in the future. I started this as a child (around 10) and still do it. In fact, just the other day I was thinking about the ‘old lady’ I want to become. What kind of clothes I would wear, my attitude my routine. I wasn’t sure if that’s weird or not. I notice my aging only when I look back at photos (even recent ones) not so much looking in the mirror. I look in the mirror for hairs to pluck but don’t focus on wrinkles. LOL. I love the picture you took!

  11. I thought this was just me! I remember thinking of myself being an adult at the age of 24. Now that I’m going on 27 I have to say there’s some panic. I feel like I should have my shit together by now. I guess from an outsiders point of view I do but with everything I want to accomplish… I feel like I’m running out of time. Maybe I need to do more picturing myself older and accept that I’m past 24! [but damn was 24 good lol]

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