Time. To Ask the Right Questions.
A few days ago, I met a talented young woman who had a dream about making a big difference in the world. Her dream was vivid, and she shared that since she was a little girl she’d known it was the life she wanted. Yet she hadn’t begun to build her future because…
… she felt held back by her past. Things had happened. It hadn’t gone according to plan. And she was sure it wasn’t the kind of past that preceded the future she wanted. So she’d put the future on hold… waiting… until maybe something changed.
I felt I knew this young woman’s story well. At times in my life, it’s been my story too. I think many people feel similarly. So later that day, as I sat in an airplane zipping me toward the future I want to build, I wrote a story that, perhaps, offers us a way forward.
Once upon a time there was a young woman who closed her eyes and dreamed. In her dream, she met another woman, much older than her, who looked just like her. The same eyebrows, same smile, and same sense of style.
“What’s your name?” she asked the much older woman.
“Future,” the old woman replied.
Instantly, the young woman recognized herself in Future. And she wondered, “Have you lived a good life?”
Future looked toward the sky and considered how she might respond.
“There is no easy answer,” she shared. “My life has been a series of extraordinary possibilities that expand and contract based on a set of decisions one person makes.”
“Who is that person?” the young woman asked.
“You,” the old woman said.
“Yes you. You are Present. And you are, among other things, indecisive. Sometimes you think about me when you make decisions. But you usually think about her instead?
“Who?” the young woman asked, as her eyes darted around her childhood living room, where she and Future were standing. “It’s just you and me here.”
“Past,” Future explained. “You choose Past over me everyday. And I get it. You can’t see me yet. But Past is everywhere. She’s in the people you see, the food you eat, and the childhood you relive.”
The young woman was following now. And she didn’t appreciate Future putting down her past. “What’s wrong with Past? We all have a Past? She makes us who we are.”
“Nothing is wrong with Past. She’s beautiful and important. But she’s also very persuasive. Over and over again, she convinces you to build a life that reflects who you once were, rather than who you are and who you want to become.”
“Oh,” the young woman said. “I guess that makes sense.”
“I must go,” Future said. “But before I go, please know one thing: The quality of your life, Present, is reflected in your ability to be informed by Past and guided by the Future you desire. Stop giving Past so much power!”
“But how….” the young woman asked, as she watched the older woman fade away until… she no longer appeared. “How can I be guided by… you… if I don’t know where you are, who you are, or how I can find you?”
Exhausted, the young woman curled up into a ball and cried. For once again she was lost. She found a paper and a pencil. For she wanted to write about how lost she felt. She put the pencil to the paper and she wrote:
My Future is contained in two questions: Who am I… and what choices can I make to reflect who I am?
These are different questions than the ones I’ve always asked: “Who was I… and what choices could I make to reflect who I was?
The young woman put the pencil down. She stared at what she’d written, and she knew something had changed… opened up… awoken.
In that moment, finally, Present began creating the Future she desired. And without realizing it, she also gave Past the relief she was looking for.
Co-Founder & CEO, Avanoo
Daniel Jacobs is the CEO and co-founder of Avanoo. Daniel’s work has been featured on Fortune, Inc. BusinessInsider, Apple News, HuffPo, and most major news publications in the United States. His company, Avanoo, uses storytelling, micro-learning, and cutting-edge technology to help many of the world’s most prominent brands drive desired change, performance, and engagement at scale and in just three minutes a day.