A letter from my future self


Lincoln's adviceIf you’ve ever wondered where you’re heading, or what your work and life is leading up to (if anything), then I have an exercise that might help you.

This week, I suggested this exercise when several people I’m coaching were struggling a bit with their purpose. That reminded me I had done something similar for myself more than 4 years ago, and when I read it again this week I was surprised at what I found.

A vision of your future

In Coach Yourself, Anthony Grant and Jane Greene advise that to help decide what’s important to you and what to focus on, a good method is to write yourself a letter from the future. (Other variations including creating “vision boards” made up of pictures from magazines.)

Simply choose a date a some months or years ahead. Then imagine what happened during that time if your life had gone well and how you’d feel if you were successful and fulfilled. The real examples in the book showed there’s no one right way to write such a letter. The common theme was simply people writing earnestly about what they were doing and feeling at some future point.

“For it to be real, for it to be useful, you need to engage your emotions. It seems that there is something quite special about writing it down that allows you to reaching into your deepest self.”

My own vision

In, 2009, I took part in a Keith Ferrazzi “Relationship Masters Academy” that’s now an online offering. When we began, he had us write up our dreams and goals, a short summary of our long-term vision, and three specific results that would tell us if we’d accomplished our goal. He also had us describe how we would feel if we didn’t pursue our goal and if we did.

It was a variation of a letter to my future self. And I remember, when I wrote it, that I was nervous. How odd to be nervous simply writing something about myself that no one else would see! I also remember, once I let go of my anxiety and let myself write, that I could taste the future.

Here are my answers, unedited, from four years ago.

My Dreams/Goals

“To live in different countries for months at a time – Japan, France, Spain, Italy…(to name the top 4)

I would like to write (publicly – beyond my weekly work blog, which was at least a start) and to connect with an audience.

I’d like to create! Books but also software and other projects. Things that people would use and love.

I’d like to do something genuinely helpful, particularly when it comes to education for kids who may not normally have access to it. (I benefitted from going to a free scholarship high school which changed my life.)

Oh, and financial independence… 🙂 Actually, I don’t mind the idea of having to work to earn a living. But the dream is more to be able to research/write/speak/ present about ideas and connect with people. Perhaps ideal “jobs” are those of a Malcolm Gladwell, Clay Shirky or Seth Godin…or Keith Ferrazzi 🙂 ”

Articulating my vision

“I will become a champion of ideas. Who will write, speak and connect. Within 10 years. (But taking steps NOW!)”

How will I know?

“I will have authored a book or other notable content that > 20,000 people read. I will have been paid to speak. I can earn a living from writing, speaking and (only some) consulting.”

How will it feel if I don’t try and if I do?

“If I don’t pursue my mission now, I will continue to live my status quo and…. My sense of being special will fade. My frustration at not doing “more” will increase. My (constant) fear of having to earn enough for the next 20+ years will remain. My entire life will be colored by the 2 statements above.”

“If I do pursue my vision now, I will be increasingly happy and… My sense of peace and inner calm will be much, much greater. My energy and enthusiasm will be much higher – every day. My family will be happy because I’ll be “present” and happy.”

What will your letter look like?

I hadn’t looked at this exercise since I wrote it four years ago. What surprised me is how much of it still feels right or is coming true. Either I’m a fantastic forecaster or, much more likely, the act of envisioning the future and writing it down shaped my thoughts and my actions.

What about you? What would your letter look like? Not your bio or about page or whatever else you might write to impress someone else. Write to your future self for yourself. Maybe share it with one close friend who can support you.

Destiny isn’t something that awaits you. It’s something you create.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A letter from my future self

  1. julianstodd says:

    You should add Amsterdam to the list. Great post 🙂

  2. rainabba says:

    There are VERY few blogs that I’m eager to read and yours is one. This is an outstanding idea and one that I think takes some courage to implement because one must face a real fear to execute it; recognizing what a sincere failure in ones life would look like. I think that facing that fear and having that courage would help enable one to take action towards avoiding that failure.

    Thanks for another great post. You’re definitely realizing at least one of your goals with me.

  3. Odun says:

    Thanks John. Really inspiring.



  4. Marie-Louise Collard says:

    John –an excellent post and an inspiring exercise to do – thanks very much for sharing!
    If I had written my letter four years ago from where I am now – I may not recognise myself or what I wrote.
    So I have a question for you: what happens not “if you don’t try” but “if things don’t happen as you’d expected?’ I refrain from saying “if you don’t succeed” because that is not my point. It is not about success or failure – but a change of direction that you hadn’t foreseen previously.
    Nor did it change direction or “happen to you” for no reason but because you were shaping a future that you thought was taking you along one path but actually led to something else altogether.
    You may feel more or equally fulfilled – but not in the same way as you had thought and with different aspirations. And going back to the status quo may not be an option..
    Would you nevertheless be “disappointed”? Or just put it behind you?

    • John Stepper says:

      Hello, Marie-Louise. What I didn’t say is that this is the second version of my letter. The first I wrote when I though I was going to build (get ready for it) Facebook apps.

      While that first dream didn’t result in much tangible success, I did learn a lot about what I wanted and what I was good at. If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t have been able to write the next version. The doing, it turns out, is the key.

  5. This is a variation of what is called “The Merlin Method” as Merlin had the power to fly into the future, see how it was and then come back to create a story of the journey describing the learnings and transformations requiered to reach such successfull destiny.Like in hansel and Gretel, the only thing you need is to follow the breadcrumb path

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Lorenzo. I hadn’t heard of the Merlin method but that does capture the essence of all the various techniques aimed to help you visualize your future self. Cheers.

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