Psychology

  • Issue 111 / May - June 2016



    The Nature of Change - Exchange of Letters with My Future Self

    Elizabeth Allen

    To my future self,

    I think we are all searching for something in our lives. No one seems to know exactly what that something is, but we all are seeking what is greater than ourselves. I think that is how I would define life—a constant pursuit of that which is beyond us. We as humans are eternally stretching out our hands towards the horizon, constantly reaching for what is impossible. This aspect of human nature has propelled us to amazing heights, but even as we are redefining what is possible, we are pushing people behind us in our inexhaustible quest for something indefinable.

    The world is constantly changing, developing into new iterations of past versions. In the past few hundred years, though life has changed immensely, some has regrettably remained the same. Revolutions in agriculture, industry, and technology have shaped the world and shifted the very nature of life. The world of today would be unrecognizable to people even ten or fifteen years ago. Though humanity as a whole has advanced much, as always, some people have been left behind. Many people do not have access to any of the amenities that I, as a United States citizen, often take for granted. Running water, electricity, and Internet access are things that others only dream of.  Some people do not even take for granted that they will live to see the next day. Things and situations these people have no control over constantly limit them. I can only hope that the next big revolution in our world will be a revolution in what the daily life of the average person entails.

    I cannot imagine what the world will be like in one year, much less by the time I am 100. The future is unfathomable: it is constantly evolving, and the smallest action can trigger enormous changes. I suppose I am writing this letter to myself as a way of opening a window to the future. There is so much I want to know, so much that could help me shape the future. There is so much that will change between now and when I am 100; between 2016 and 2098. In 2098, the world will be on the verge of a precipice, approaching a new century. New ideas and inventions I cannot begin to imagine will be commonplace. Everything possible now will seem insignificant to what is possible in 2098. The way I live my life now will seem antiquated. My generation will have handed over control of the world to the generations after us. It is my hope that my generation will be remembered for what good we did while we still controlled what happened to the world.


    ***


    All people have an innate desire to be unique: to be the smartest or the prettiest or the best. We all like to believe we are special and that we matter to the world simply because of the fact that we exist. In a sense, I think that this is true. We are all inarguably different. Each of us has specific gifts and talents that make us distinctly ourselves. Yet, unfortunately, whether we matter is not fully dependent on our existence. It is dependent on what we do with that existence.

    What do I want to do with my existence? I strive to be more than myself, more than just a voiceless, insignificant teenage girl. At 18, I have already grown tired of labels and judgments. I have grown tired of people subtly telling me who I should be in the same instant as they innocently ask who I want to be. I have grown tired of being confined by expectations. I have grown tired of being silenced. I want to break free from that which limits me. I want to extend beyond what—and who— I am supposed to be.

    I want to change the world.  No, I am not one of those naïve, idealistic girls who believes that I matter in the grand scheme of things. I acknowledge my insignificance. I do not believe that I will be the one who cures cancer or creates world peace or becomes the first woman President. I will, however, do my best to change what I can. Whether I will impact millions of people or just a few is left up to the fates. I merely wish to change my personalworld, my tiny corner of reality. I am determined to leave a mark on my world, as clichéd as that sounds.

    I cannot imagine what I will be like in the future. So much will have happened by then. What will I have experienced? Who will I have met? Where will I have traveled? There are so many possible endings to my story that I cannot even begin to guess what will happen to me. I barely have an idea of what story has begun, much less what will impact its plotline. Hopefully, at the end of it all, I will have no regrets. Hopefully by then I will have discovered what I was born to do. For now, as François Rabelais once said, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”


    Best Regards,

    The Elizabeth of Times Present and Past


     


    Dearest Elizabeth,

    It seems so ironic that memories are so fragile and fleeting, yet they are so integral in defining who we are as humans. The person I was in 2016—the person you are right now—has transformed slowly into who I am now without me realizing that anything was changing. I have been shaped by what has happened to me, shaped by the memories that make up my life. There is so much advice I could impart to you to change what happened in your life, but this would change who you are—who I am. All of the decisions you make and all of the memories you gain will lead up to a final moment one day, a moment I am rapidly approaching now. In that moment, you will have to decide for yourself if you are happy with who you are and who you have been. You will have to determine on your own if your actions were right.  I will not give any specifics about what has happened in your life or what has happened to the world, though I know how much you would like to know. Additionally, if you are looking for a guide to who you should be, you will not be receiving one. The point of life is to discover the point of life.

    However, I will impart some wisdom to you that I have learned throughout my life. First of all, only you have the ability to change your life. You are the only one in control of your actions. Though it may seem like the world is conspiring against you to confine you, there is always a choice. You need only to look.

    Second, make sure to remember what is truly important. Objects are merely temporary; people can be in your life forever, if you so choose. It is your actions that will determine if the people in your life remain there. Do not forget who has helped you become who you are. Do not forget those beside you in your attempts to help everyone else. Also, remember that what seems to be the most important in your life today may not be the most important tomorrow or the day after that. As you grow, your mind will continue to change what is important in your life. Pay attention to these changes, and readjust your priorities based on them.

    Third, recognize the passage of time. A timespan that seems to you like forever will soon become your past. Do not let time go to waste. There are so many things I know you want to accomplish in your life. It seems like you have a lifetime ahead of you to actually do these things, and in a very real sense you do have a lifetime. Trust me, though: a lifetime is not as long as it seems to be. One day you will be 100. One day you will reflect on your life and wonder if you could have fulfilled any more of your dreams. Today is the day you will look back on your life. Today is the day I look back on my life. Try to make sure you have done all you can with what opportunities you were given.

    Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind the nature of change. It is so easy to form one image in your mind of what needs to be changed. It will seem like you have an enemy to face, one thing to conquer so that all will turn out well. If you imagine millions of so-called enemies, the world would still be more complicated than that. Change will not be as simple as “winning”. It will be complicated. It will be difficult. It will have unforeseen consequences. You will not be rewarded for it. Often, people will hate you for it. But change is necessary in order for life to continue and advance. Remember that. If you wish to change anything, this is the one thing you need to remember.

    You wondered what impact your generation would have on the world. You wondered what impact you personally would have on the world. It is only natural that you wonder these things. Indeed, your generation is one that will profoundly impact the world. Even as the world of 2098 is approaching a tipping point, so too is the world of 2016. Tensions are rising, and problems are increasing. Individual powers are being taken away, even as other individual powers are growing. The rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. The world seemingly contradicts itself in all aspects. The world is at a crosshairs. It is your generation that will decide what happens next.

    A great war is coming in your lifetime. It is you and others like you who will decide what kind of war this is. Will it be a war against ourselves or will it be a war against what limits us all?


    With Love,

    The Once and Future Elizabeth



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