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This simple exercise can help you step into the future with confidence and courage.

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

Source: Twitter @waitbutwhy (Tim Urban)

Hi there!

Sometimes, a simple brain dump can make a big difference. This week I want to share one of these. It’s one of my favorite approaches to lessen anxieties about the future. I learned it last year from a professional futurist.

The technique is called “Going back to go forward.”

Futurists use it to study the rate of change (how much and how fast) of a given industry, society, trend, etc. The logic is that you can’t forecast a future scenario without understanding how you got to the present state. This applies to our careers too.

Most of us fall into analysis paralysis when arriving at a career crossroads.

  • What if the next job turns out to be worst than the one I have?

  • How will downgrading my job title and salary impact my next move?

  • What if I venture out on my own and only make a fraction of my current income?

  • What if I can’t handle the pressure of the next role?

When we stand a chance of losing something of value (e.g., autonomy, money, status, etc.), the future looks frightening. We latch on to certainty. And our grip gets tighter as we age.

But when anxiety takes over, we forget that the future is not something that happens to us. It’s something we create for ourselves. We can’t control the monkey wrenches that life throws at us, but we have complete control over how we respond and move through. In other words, resilience.

We admire other people’s resilience and courage while downplaying our own. This simple technique will remind you of how badass you are.

So, ditch the cheesy affirmations about courage, and let’s dive in!

We overestimate how much progress we can make in 1 year and underestimate how much can be accomplished in 10 years.

My wife, Michelle, and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in August.

The milestone was a perfect reason to put “Going back to go forward” into practice. As an attachment to the card, I included a long list of all the things (good and bad) we experienced together since we got married. Here are a few:

  • We had two beautiful daughters.

  • We bought a house in the suburbs and sold our condo in the city

  • I made 4 career moves, and Michelle made 2.

  • Each of us quit one toxic job and experienced one layoff.

  • We made it through a 2-year pandemic.

  • I put my career on hold and became a full-time dad for 2 years.

  • We saw 3 family members and 2 friends pass away.

  • 3 of our nephews became adults.

  • Combined, we traveled 50+ times for business or pleasure.

  • I became certified as a coach.

Writing this list helped me appreciate how much we’ve evolved over the last 10 years. It also made me think that most of us reduce our accomplishments to a resume with 20-30 jargony bullet points.

The simple act of widening the lens highlighted the richness of our experience. And most importantly, it reminded me that everything worked out despite the challenges that once seemed insurmountable.

Whatever happens, I will always find a way forward.

When you realize how far you’ve traveled and whom you’ve become, you’ll see the future differently.

Next time you find yourself worrying about the next steps in your career, your ability to pull it off, or recover from the loss if things don’t play out, do this...

  1. Open your photo stream, journals, calendar, or any source of history from your past 10 years if you may also enlist your significant other, a sibling, or your best friend.

  2. List as many things you experienced (big and small) over the last 10 years.:

  • Life and career transitions.

  • Things you learned, new perspectives you gained.

  • People you’ve impacted, people who had an impact on you.

  • Meaningful relationships you started and ended.

  • Places you lived in, places you visited.

  • Hardships you overcame, doors that opened.

  • Successes, setbacks, and learnings from your career. Reflect on what you learned about yourself, what surprised you, and what it means to you moving forward.

Simple? Yes. Powerful? Absolutely!

That’s it for this week!

As always, thanks for reading.

Hit reply and let me know how this technique helped you. Your comments and feedback (good and bad) are pure gold!

If you are stuck in a mid-career crisis and are ready to start walking out of the fog, ask me about my 1:1 signature career transformation program.

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