Have you ever written a letter to yourself? As we approach the end of the school year, high school teachers across the country may be encouraging seniors to write a letter to their future self, perhaps giving advice or maybe a cautionary warning, and then later on in life we are supposed to read the letter and draw some kind of conclusion. It’s fun to read what a younger, more naive version of yourself may have considered to be profound and sage advice, and compare how things really turned out compared to what you predicted in your youth.
I wonder if the reverse could also be meaningful, and what our future selves would say if they could reach back to where we are now and give us advice. As a wellness coach, I often encourage my clients to look around and see what is written on their walls. When hindsight is 20/20 and we reflect after a catastrophe that the signs were “written on the walls”, it only makes sense that if we had taken the time to read what is written there, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and headache.
Of course, we can’t predict the future, but we can draw a reasonable conclusion based on logic and common sense to determine whether our current situation is one that is likely to end well, or otherwise. The signs are there: a growing list of medications, a doctor advising a lifestyle change, chronic fatigue, increasing forgetfulness or a sense of overwhelm are all indications of a train running off the rails. How many of these signs are we passing in our daily lives, planning to do something about them when things calm down, and ultimately ignoring?
Reflect back on the life you have led up to this point. What advice would you give a younger version of yourself, knowing what you know now? Countless books have been written on the wisdom of the ages, and the lessons we learn over the course of a lifetime: don’t sweat the small stuff. Forgive early and often. Buy the accident policy!
And, of course, we listen and nod and reflect on this earned wisdom, and go on with our lives. The luxury of spending more time with family is easy for someone at the end of their life to suggest, when the practical application of that good advice is harder to achieve. Many things are easier said than done; many of the smartest, wisest choices seem possible “if only”. If only things were a little different, a little less hectic, a little less expensive, a little less inconvenient.
Those barriers are legitimate, but let’s put them to the side for a moment and pretend they are not there. Then, try some of these techniques for hearing the wisdom of your future self.
Just Ask For It. This idea might sound a little out there, but go with me. Close your eyes, connect with yourself, and listen. Listen for what your heart and soul are saying. Remember in “Dead Poet’s Society,” when Robin Williams’ character has the boys lean in towards to trophy case to hear the wisdom of the students who had come before them? Just like that. Be still, close your eyes, ask yourself for advice, and listen. And believe it.
Pretend You Are Not Yourself. If listening to yourself is too out there, then pretend you are giving advice to someone else. If a friend was headed on the path you are now, what advice would you want to give? What would you say, and what would you not say for fear of hurting their feelings? Tell that to yourself, in a kind way. And believe it.
Write Your Own Ending. I was amazed once by a story of a man who wrote his obituary in advance of his death, and didn’t like what it said. So, he tore it up and wrote a better one. Then, he lived that life. A slight shift in habits can change the course of an entire life cycle; write a few drafts and pick your favorite. Then, believe it!
Your future self is up ahead, trying to make eye contact with you and give you a significant look. Make eye contact. Read the writing on the walls of your life. What does it say? Will you believe it? Do you believe you can write something different?