Edward Albee won his third Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play “Three Tall Women.” Three actors on stage (four if you count the mannequin in the bed) represent the same woman at different stages in her life: at 26 with the self-confidence of youth, a 52-year-old cynical version, and a “thin, autocratic, proud and wealthy” woman in her 90s. The mannequin in the bed is the woman post mortem.
The dialogue contains a fair amount of “How did I become you?” with reflections on life’s impact on us. I have seen the play at least twice, the first time in Manhattan. It peaked my curiosity about the process of change we undergo in life and the extent to which we can direct that change.
Awareness and perspective are two keys tools toward self-directed change. Some time in my late teens or early twenties I started visualizing to help guide my future. I imagined myself sitting at a table with five or six people, all different versions of myself, generally separated by a decade of life. Me at twenty, at thirty, at forty, etc. I tried to visualize the person I would become if I made various choices, attempting to see the impact each choice would create in the future, the ripple effect.
Obviously, these projections of myself were only as good as my imagination. My predictive ability was limited by my world experience of the moment, and perhaps supplemented by the biographies I’d read (one reason I love to read!) or the observations I’d made of the lives of those around me.
Nonetheless, I found the process of connecting with my future self a useful one. It motivated me, it made the consequences of my actions vividly real to me. As I became more accomplished at observing life and myself, I think my future selves became even better guides. Of course, there’s potential for self-fulfilling prophecy here, but as long as it was on the positive side, so much the better. I did find that the “me” a decade or two directly in front of me spoke most often. As time flowed on, the Nathans a decade or two behind also started to have some interesting perspectives. The “final Nathan” did not speak often but everyone was very aware that he was the final arbiter, that it was by the accumulated wisdom of the last Nathan that all others would be evaluated.
Consider creating your own internal cast of characters. They will create self awareness and make a great board of advisors. The more often you convene them, the more substantial the advice and perspective they can to convey.