Bears Repeating from Jess Hill: Imagining our Future Selves
It happens like clockwork at the stroke of midnight. As we step into the first hours and weeks of a new year, we reflect on the months behind us and begin to envision what the next year might bring. We tell ourselves we will be in better shape, with more organized work spaces and healthier habits. We set goals for travel and self-fulfillment. We plan for how we will change on the outside.
At the same time, we set goals assuming that our future selves will remain the same on the inside — that our beliefs and values will be unchanged. We accept that we will age physically, and yet we believe that as we grow older, we will have the same perspectives, views, and priorities. In essence, we think the world will change, and internally, we will be the same, just in a different world.
Shankar Vedantam, journalist and author of “Hidden Brain,” calls this “the illusion of continuity.” When we look forward, we cannot clearly envision the person we may become. It is difficult to imagine the future, he says, because “our futures are not only unknown, sometimes they are unknowable.”
It is a bit of a paradox because we know change does occur. Our past selves are different than the people we are in this moment. Perhaps the job we have now didn’t exist as a profession a decade ago. Maybe we didn’t have a child, much less a daughter in an all-girls school. It is possible we became a pescatarian or picked up a new hobby. We are different. And the same holds true for what is to come.
Mr. Vedantam says, “Our future selves are going to have capacities and strengths and wisdom that we do not have today.”
As an educator, this is a fairly easy concept to embrace. I submit that no other profession is filled with more hope for the future than teaching. Through the years, we may see students flounder at certain times, and then, before our eyes, we see them grow and change and gain confidence and ultimately soar. When a 5th grade teacher sees a former student walk down Souby Lawn at graduation, she often marvels and delights at the kind, caring, courageous young woman she has become. We have faith in our students’ expanded capacities and wisdom, or we would not spend time doing what we do. We also have the privilege and satisfaction of witnessing their growth during their time at Harpeth Hall.
If we can accept this idea that we will be different people in 10, 20, or 30 years, then we need to think more about curating the person we want to become. Mr. Vedantam has advice on how we can shape our future selves. He suggests we should all spend time with new people with whom we don’t ordinarily spend time. Pursue new activities. In short, we must expand our horizons by staying curious. I see our girls do these things again and again with the start of each semester or new Winterim class or experience. Our students exemplify curiosity each day. Sometimes a girl is inspired by the curiosity around her, and sometimes she is the inspiration for someone else.
Mr. Vedantam’s second piece of advice is to add a bit of humility whenever we share our views on social media or at a dinner party. Among those who may disagree with us might even be our future selves. Most of our girls are aware that they are becoming themselves during their Harpeth Hall years. Our younger girls look at the older girls and know they have a long way to go. We want them to continue to develop their voices, opinions, and confidence. We also want them to hold a confident humility that allows them to see that someone else may have thought of something they hadn’t. Our girls can stand up for what they believe while still listening and learning from others. They can concede that their views also may transform in the future.
Finally, when we sense a lack of confidence or motivation to face future challenges or embrace new endeavors, it is essential to recognize that our capabilities will inevitably expand. As adults, we may feel that we don’t have it in us to go back to graduate school and finish that degree or quit our job and start our own business or care for a sick family member. Our younger girls can’t imagine giving a speech, writing a term paper, or choosing a college. Still, even when we are scared, it is important that we tap into our courage and try what is hard. We should move forward with the knowledge that we will grow during the journey. We will build the capacity and wisdom to do well tomorrow.
If we can shed the “illusion of continuity” and enter this year being curious, humble, and brave, it just might help us more clearly envision our futures — this year and beyond.