Have No Regrets In Five Years: Advice From Your Future-Self

By Ali Luke

November 17, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

past self” – perhaps five or ten years ago. Common examples are things like:

  • Take better care of your teeth.
  • Don’t start a relationship with…
  • Change your major to…
  • Eat less junk/exercise more
  • Don’t flunk your exams
Instead of getting you to think about the past and dredge up all those regrets and might-have-beens, I’m going to give you a more positive spin on this idea. I want you to imagine yourself, five years in the future – then write a letter to yourself as you are today.

(You can just think this through, but it’s much more powerful to write it down.)

Here are some areas where your future-self may need to have a firm word with your present-self:

Can you see yourself in the same career in five years’ time? If that thought makes you think of five long years of stress and boredom, it’s time to start researching a career change. If you’d like to be in the same career but at a higher level, are you actively working towards a promotion, or just assuming that it will happen? Will your current actions put you in the position you want to be in, or will they mean that you never progress from where you currently are?

If you’re in school or college, are you truly investing in your future – or are you just enjoying yourself and blowing off classes whenever you can? Alternatively, are you taking on so many extra credit courses that you’re risking burnout? Whatever your attitude towards your education, stop and think about where you’re likely to be in five years time if you carry on as you currently are doing. Will you be in the position you want?

Are you currently in debt? Do you have the level of savings that you’d like – maybe an emergency fund, or a bigger pot of cash for traveling? Consider how the way you’re treating money today will impact you in five years. If you keep buying on credit, leaving bills unopened and refusing to get on top of your finances, you’re going to make things very hard for your future-self. But if you start saving just $10 a week today, that’s $2,600 (plus interest!) in five years time.

What good habits would you like to have in your life? What bad habits would you like to get rid of? Unless you’re taking active steps to build the former and conquer the latter, you’re unlikely to make any progress. If you want to cut down your coffee habit or quit smoking, don’t keep putting it off until next week, next month, or next year. Because five years down the line, your future-self is looking back and wishing that you’d started working on those habits today.

Do you eat a healthy diet? Do you exercise on a regular basis? Is your body in good shape and likely to survive the next five years without any significant health problems? Be honest with yourself: if you’re overweight, why not start taking action now? Even if it takes you five years to reach a healthy weight, those five years are going to go by anyway. Just ask your future-self (who wishes you’d start your healthier lifestyle right now).
Something many people regret in life is not taking advantage of the chances that they have. Are you missing out on any opportunities at the moment? Is your future-self looking back and telling you to sign up for that course, take that class, reach out to that potential new friend, or volunteer for that big project at work? A good place to look for the opportunities you’re missing is to think about anything you’re afraid to try, or afraid to start. Those are the things that future-self wishes you’d do!
Do you have friends or relatives who sap your energy, motivation and zest for life, every time you see them? Your future-self is going to struggle on with those vampiric relationships for the next five years unless you take action to change or end them right now. Or do you have old friends who you keep meaning to get back in touch with? Guess what – you’ll probably still be meaning to in five years’ time, if you don’t get moving, so start looking up those phone numbers or email addresses today.

Take fifteen minutes today, and write a letter from the perspective of your future-self, speaking to your present-self. What do you need to be told? Where in your life do you need to make changes?

Written on 11/17/2008 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: superfem
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