Flashback to 2011…who were you ten years ago? If you take a moment to seriously reflect on your status a decade ago, you may be astonished as most of us are to acknowledge that our values, preferences, and personalities have changed significantly – often in profound, fundamental ways. But when asked to project ten years into the future, a recent survey has found we assume we’ll be exactly the same (albeit a few more wrinkles and grey hair). In other words, we are guided by the notion that development is a process that has delivered us to our current identity but now our personal evolution is complete. Younger people are even more prone to believing that what they think and value now will hold true for the rest of their lives (just ask any Millennial with a tattoo and the concept of permanent ink etched on their body).
But life is linear and in constant flux. Our internal desire for growth coupled with external influences fuels change. Typically, these are incremental and gradual changes – an evolution, not revolution – that we are not always fully aware of individually. Only in sum, retrospectively, do we realize we have experienced a transformation when we compare ourselves to a decade ago. Our views on grand themes like religion, politics and social issues can all significantly modify based on experiences and external factors.
In many ways, we are a product of our environment. We are bombarded on TV with images and opinions that constantly shape our existence. The cultural influences that surround us crystallize our identity. What you see, hear, taste – the assault on all your senses – affects the very essence of who you are. We become inoculated as we adapt to our community. Many of us will move to a new city or country in our transient society today, and this serves as a catalyst for new opportunity for growth and change as we adapt to our new environment.
Life event status changes are impactful too and may challenge us in unforeseen ways. Marriage, divorce and/or loss of a loved one can create reexamination. Becoming a parent (grandparent, aunt or uncle) may cause us to view the world through the lens of a newborn child which may significantly alter our belief system: Topical issues like advocating for gun control may be cast in a new light; A hawkish tone for war may be softened; The debate on climate change may have increased gravitas as you now consider the adverse impact on a future generation. Where once you would have flipped the TV channel out of boredom on an issue, you may find yourself marching in a parade to vehemently defend your position on the very same issue.
In addition to your macro world view, subtle changes occur at the individual level too. Your spirituality may grow, tastes will modify and even superficial preferences like fashion sense and hair style may change. If you don’t believe me, check out any photo of yourself in your high school yearbook (cringe worthy!). A friend may introduce you to a new hobby or interest; international travel may expose you to a new culture or cuisine; a colleague may turn you on to a new genre of music or period of art. Your social circle may now be hanging out with soccer Moms as you drive your minivan past the Porsche dealership you’ve eyed for years. These are all fun and fascinating developments in our constant personal growth and evolution.
I will always advocate for being present and living in the moment. But being mindful of the roadmap ahead and the trajectory you are on in this journey called life is important too to retain your true essence. Being consciously aware of your personal growth, with an eye on your moral compass, will ensure you evolve to your optimal level. Change is inevitable, and should be viewed as a positive and necessary development, so embrace it passionately. But think twice before heading to the tattoo parlor as you most likely will come to regret it ten years from now.