personal practice: imagining our futures

in february 2013, one of my best friends (ambroise) and i started a practice we call imagining our futures. every six months, we sit together (in person or virtually) and ask each other where we are now in life and then where we want to be in six months, one year, five years, and ten years. we record it in a running google doc and make sure we don’t look at the last round when doing the current round. at the end of the current round, we look at the previous round. 

tbh, i can’t remember exactly what sparked the idea. i know it had something to do with him getting ready to leave academia because he was finishing his masters.

august 2016 was our eighth round of doing the practice. it’s been four years. i’ve learned some pretty surprising things. ambroise may or may not agree with how i verbalize these lessons (so i will try not to speak for his learning here), but most or all of these lessons have come from our collective processing.

  1. the three areas to cover at each time marker are location, romantic relationship, and work. other things can be added, but covering at least those three is key.
  2. the more vague you are with your descriptions of where you are in the future, the easier it is to stay within them.
  3. the more specific we are with our projections, the faster it becomes obvious how quickly what we want changes.
  4. what we want changes WAY more than either of us expected.
  5. it’s much easier to predict where you’ll want to be from some phases of life (graduate school, for example). other phases of life (two years after grad school) are more difficult to predict from.
  6. sometimes, it’s really difficult to say more than “i don’t know” about where you want to be in five or ten years.
  7. doing this over time has made the idea of long-term planning for the future seem absurd. yes, i know the rate of change slows over time, but given that many people in their 20s and 30s are making decisions that will set the course for the rest of their lives, it seems odd (suboptimal) to make those decisions when you’re changing the fastest.

all of this connects to a post i wrote the other day about how bad we are at understanding that we will change in the future.

ps - in light of all of this, the idea of planning for retirement seems totally fanciful.