self awareness quote

Starting at a ‘Future CV’ and landing up at the ‘Future Self’

What am I actively doing today keeping my Future CV in mind

In my early 20s as young graduate student pursuing a PhD I used to chase my mentor and dissertation advisor for a ‘no agenda meeting’ once every six months. While I called them a ‘no-agenda’ meeting a consistent inquiry that hovered in my mind – what more should I be doing as a doctoral student? Am I actively making use of all opportunities for my professional growth and not limited by the tunnel vision of just getting done with my dissertation requirements. Essentially – what could I do today keeping my Future CV in mind?

I deeply cherished those meetings with her – for it allowed a space to explore what more and move towards it. Being a discerning mentor, whenever I was spreading myself thin, my advisor would ask me to focus on what’s important – “the PhD is not your life’s work, your life’s work starts after the PhD, so move fast”. That advice also served me well.

From then on, I always seek a group of mentors/advisors to help me reflect on my professional growth. This allows me to stay the course. Be mindful about what to pursue given where I would like my career to be 3 – 5 years down the road? In other words, working actively to build the Future CV.

The shift – I have to build the Future Self as much as my Future CV

Many years later when contemplating a career transition, I invested in hiring a Coach.  There I encountered the idea of my Future Self.  The idea of the Future Self brought a consciousness of who did I want to be as a person, 5 years from now.  An understanding of that would help determine what capabilities, personality, skills, and behaviour would I need to work on to get there. This perspective reinforced some of my learnings of how self-awareness as a leader was as important, if not more, that just the managerial and technical skills. (I wrote about that here in case it resonates with you).

On studying more, I realised the idea of a Future Self isn’t a vague and ambiguous construct, but sits on a vast body of science and research.  Benjamin Hardy’s insight on developing our Future Self draws from the seminal research of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert who calls out a bias amongst all of us that we tend to think that the person we are today is the person we will always be. Though looking at our past we know that our personalities, skills, likes and dislikes change over time, our mind is biased towards thinking who we are presently is the ‘finished’ version of us.  It is evident to us that our careers will evolve and change of time – but do we believe that about ourselves?

Strategies for  becoming our Future Self

So where does one start from in being more conscious about who we want to be in the future? Hardy offers three ways to take control of this change in us towards becoming the version of ourselves that we most want to be in the future.

  • Discern your former/current/future self

Think about it. When the conversation comes up in the professional space, we tend to talk definitively about what we can capable of, based on who we are in the present. Several years ago, I did hear myself saying “I deliver well if I am in-charge but I am not good at managing a team” or “ I am good at one-on-one connects, but I cannot network in a room filled with people”.  Unknowingly, I was clinging to my identity as I saw it in that time and revealing an inherent resistance to another way of being.  

As it is with all labels – while it can inform, it also runs the risk of being limiting.  Assuming these labels about myself, was limiting my ability to see that I am not displaying that potential yet.  The way to move from rut is to recognise the difference between our past and current selves.

Sage advice once given to me was that the only way to compare yourself is with who you were yesterday and how you show up today.  When we see ourselves this way, it allows for us to imagine ourselves being different in the future. If I am not the person I was yesterday, that means the person I will be in the future is not who I am today.

  • Imagine your desired future self and work towards it

Seek out the time to imagine and reflect on who you want to be in the future. I had a profound shift in perspective when I read – “the future self is not someone you discover, but someone you decide to be”. 

This means we have an active role in creating who we are, and it is an endeavour independent of the self we become just by virtue of reacting to whatever is thrown at us in terms of where we work and who we engage with.  Rather than rely on the vagaries of life throws at us and let that define who we become, it is important to have be deliberative about who we are becoming towards the future. 

Once you know who you want to be in the future, you can ask yourself – what are the 1- 3 things I could do today to make progress toward my future self.  This allows us to do what it takes to shape ourselves  towards the goal we define for ourselves. Pursuing this identity of us, allows us to chip away at the comfort zone we have created for ourselves, embrace the aches of the discomfort of moving out of this zone and over time become psychologically more flexible.  This in itself creates enormous value towards our personal growth.

  • Change your identity narrative

Identity is a combination of our behaviour, attitudes, personality, competencies – and many others.  The ‘identity narrative’ is what the story we tell about ourselves – based on our past, present and future. Think about it – many time when talking about ourselves we tend to focus on who we are now, and maybe some part of who we were in the past. Does the aspiration of who you want to be in the future, present itself in the narrative you tell others today?

Of course, I am not this person yet, so I may be weary of letting others know about it and wearing it on my sleeve in a conversation. However, there is strength to acknowledging and owning with all humility, that this (fill in what matters to you) is what I am trying to develop myself into – because I want to be that one day.

What happens if you fail to be that in the future? Perhaps that how you justify why it should not be part of your present narrative. But. As Hardy says this is the only way to be intentional about that future self you imagined to be. Telling others about who you want to be, compels you to adapt the behaviour that are consistent with you future self, and results in your transforming to your future self.

The idea of imagining a Future Self is to take an active role in who we become and know that we may not be there, yet, but it isn’t that far away, either.

About Mandira Kala

Mandira is a qualified leadership coach. She is a graduate in Psychology from LSR, New Delhi, MSW from TISS, Mumbai, PhD in Public Policy from University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is passionate about developing leaders who contribute to their workplace by transforming mindsets, creating a culture of cultivating and harnessing people potential, and beating the odds to deliver beyond imagination.

1 Comment

  1. I absolutely resonate with this Mandira The only way to break the shackles in our mind is to imagine a world without them.

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