call to action #3: Make your Future Self proud

First things first: what exactly do I mean by making your Future Self 1 proud? The concept is a little fuzzy, and each person has to work out the details for themselves. It basically means: do what makes you proud in your Current Life, and what you won’t regret later. “Make your Future Self proud” is my way of saying, “Give everything your best!”.

Giving your best is making choices you can be proud of. It’s being the person you want to be. It’s avoiding excessive moping, and instead extracting value from every moment. It’s imagining each day through the eyes of a future biographer. Do you really want that biographer to write: “between 2018 and 2021 he was stuck in a rut” or “she frequently succumbed to procrastination”?

As John Anster memorably put it in his rendition of Goethe’s Faust:

Then indecision brings its own delays, And days are lost lamenting over lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

A woman standing on top of a mountain, looking proud.
Make yourself proud – and don’t forget to bask in your successes!

In my experience, a great way to make my Future Self proud is to start building upon the first two calls to action. After I quit smoking, for example, I would sometimes feel an incredibly strong biological urge to smoke a cigarette. During these moments, I would remind myself that giving into temptation – or successfully resisting it – would mean the difference between heavy disappointment or chest-swelling pride in the future. By keeping my Future Self in the picture, I found it much easier to stick to the straight and narrow. For the same reason, it helped me commit to vegetarianism and contribute to the world in various ways. It’s the mantra I repeat to myself whenever laziness, procrastination, or negativity rear their ugly heads.

Ancient Romans aspired to the four Stoic virtues, originally formulated by Plato: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.

a statue of Marcus Aurelius

In addition, they were obsessed with how they would be remembered by posterity, and constantly took into account what future history books might say about their actions and words. It’s partly for this reason that Cicero’s speeches, Ovid’s poetry, Seneca’s philosophical tracts, and Marcus Aurelius’ statesmanship are so exemplary. All of these men were effectively “making their Future Selves proud.”

Though it’s important to make your Future Self proud, you should also be kind to yourself and tolerant of your foibles. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Give everything your best, according to your strengths and weaknesses. After all: Cicero lost some of his debates; Ovid was exiled; and Seneca educated one of Rome’s worst emperors and wound up committing suicide in a bathtub. Yet despite their mistakes, the rough age in which they lived, and their comparatively brief life expectancy (50 was considered very elderly), these men managed to achieve extraordinary things.

Perhaps most instructive is the case of Marcus Aurelius. Even more than the others, he strove for Stoic purity, virtue, and excellence in all pursuits. Yet he was far too hard on himself, and his Meditations are full of despair at his own perceived failings. This just reinforces the need for proper perspective, for lightheartedness, and for a degree of self-forgiveness when you stray from the right path.

You alone know your story, and what you can reasonably expect from yourself. If you have severe depression, “giving your best” can simply mean getting out of bed in the morning after days of staring apathetically at the ceiling. If you’re an ambitious young professional, it can mean delivering well-executed projects for your clients. If you’re a racketeer, it can mean deciding to leave your unethical business behind at last. The key is not to focus on what you have done wrong, but what you can do right.

a narrow elevator
A claustrophobic person can make his Future Self proud by facing his fears and taking an elevator.

But why, you might ask, is the mantra not simply “make yourself proud”? Why the emphasis on the future? And what does this all have to do with an Eternal Blissful Life?

I believe that making your Future Self proud will make a bigger difference in the long run. It will help you keep a broader perspective, and escape the narrow thinking patterns of everyday life. We’ve all heard what old people say on their death bed: they almost always regret what they didn’t do, not what they did do. And in order to have initiative and take effective action, it’s useful to imagine what you’ll be thinking on your death bed 2(click me) rather than what you’ll be thinking later today.

Similarly, I imagine our Future Selves will care a great deal about what we did in our Current Life. In the same way that an old woman regrets her youthful mistakes, our Future Selves will regret the mistakes we made – or the opportunities we missed – in this formative first chapter of our lives. And unlike old people today, our Future Selves will actually have to live with these regrets. So there’s another way we can rephrase the third call to action: “Live your life in a way you won’t regret on your deathbed!”

withering roses

According to Richard Leider, there are three extremely common deathbed regrets that most people share. To paraphrase, they are:

  • Not being reflective enough. Never pushing the pause button and looking at one’s life more wholesomely.
  • Taking too few risks. “Risk” doesn’t necessarily mean going base jumping or mountain climbing. It can also mean living more authentically, giving more to relationships, or speaking up on behalf of others.
  • Not searching for a purpose. Ending up on autopilot without considering what gives meaning to one’s life.

(cool video summarizing the above)

By keeping in mind the exhortation to “make your Future Self proud”, you’ll remain aware that life is not just a single point in time, but a stretched-out continuum. You’ll take a step back and consider not just what seems best at the moment, but what will be best in the long run.

In one of my previous articles, “Take a step back and look at your life from the greater perspective of an Eternal Blissful Life”, I wrote that in a sense, “nothing in your current life really matters, since your current life will only be a tiny fraction of your total life”. But this is an exception to that statement; making your Future Self proud by acting well in your Current Life does in fact matter! And it’s a good thing; I actually quite like the thought that in the very distant future, I’ll reminisce on the actions I took today. Ideally, I’ll be smiling when I do so! This imagined future spurs me on to give my best in my Current Life.

Additionally, it’s conceivable that our Current Lives will be the last time we ever face serious challenges. It could be the last time we have to “struggle” to survive and prosper; when the difference we make can be a matter of life and death for other people. It’s perhaps our last opportunity to defy terrible odds and do something extraordinary. Like a soldier who fought in WWII and then went on to prosper in America – or a millionaire who started a business from nothing – we’ll be able to look back on our Current Lives as a time when we demonstrated remarkable strength of character. The soldier who fought in WWII might recall risking his life to save someone, refusing an order to kill innocent civilians, or sharing his last morsels of food despite being on the verge of starvation. By comparison, his prosperous post-WWII life wouldn’t have offered many opportunities for heroics. Helping a grandma cross the street doesn’t really test the iron in your soul!

Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler

The Polish nurse Irena Sendler saved around 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. She was caught by the Gestapo and brutally tortured, but refused to betray her comrades. She eventually escaped, her will unbroken – and then continued to save Jews. 3 Even if I had such heroism within me, I’d have a pretty hard time proving it in 21st-century Germany…

Almost by definition, your Eternal Blissful Life will occur after humanity has solved all its major problems. So there’ll be fewer opportunities to prove your mettle like Irena Sendler was able to. There won’t be horrible factory farming to oppose, refugees to help, or dictators to stand up to.

The way I see it, the fundamental human struggle is between our lower animal instincts and our more noble traits 4, between our limbic system and our neocortex, between our inner demons and the better angels of our nature. As Gore Vidal wrote in his essay on The Twelve Caesars, human beings are “half-tempted creatures, whose great moral task it is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within – for we are both, and to ignore this duality is to invite disaster.” We usually rely on willpower alone to ensure that our better side prevails. But by the time we reach our Eternal Blissful Lives, human nature itself may have changed in a fundamental way. We may have developed more effective methods of controlling the inner workings of our brain and fighting our primitive impulses. 5 We’ll be less prone to distraction and procrastination 6 , and we’ll be more empathetic and compassionate.

I even envision a scenario in which our brains can be uploaded to a digital world, or in which we can genetically re-engineer ourselves to enhance our best qualities. Thanks to brain-computer-interfaces, our brains might be able to communicate directly with artificial superintelligence, thereby helping us become a kind of advanced hybrid 7 – the cerebral equivalent of a prosthetic limb. Some transhumanists even argue that we might become practically omniscient and omnipotent creatures in the future.

life in the future

The implication of all of this is that our Current Life might be out final opportunity to prove ourselves, using only the physical and mental resources we’ve developed naturally. It could be our last chance to demonstrate the iron in our souls – despite our limited cognitive abilities, and the constant moral struggle between our rational selves and our primitive instincts. 8

Your Future Self may not have to deal with the same primitive human challenges (such as checking poor impulses) that you currently deal with. But you’ll know what it was like to have those challenges – and you’ll know how well you dealt with them. That knowledge will influence how you view yourself. It will contribute to your self-image, and affect how you’ll be seen by your future friends. Imagine if everyone knew that Zeus began his existence as a rather cowardly mortal, good for nothing and prone to self-pity. That would surely have influenced the Greeks’ feelings about him as an all-powerful god!

Of course, I have no idea what my future will really be like. All this might be nothing more than a daydream. But if it turns out to be true, I want my Future Self to have an impeccable reputation. I don’t want to have been a coward before fearlessness was made easy. I don’t want to have procrastinated until technology helped me avoid distraction. That’s why I want to do my best to deal bravely with typical human challenges. I want to make my Future Self proud!

I leave you with this apt meme:

a funny meme