How Many Futures Do You Have?

embracing change Apr 06, 2021

This is not as simple of a question as it may seem. To begin, please consider this quote,

“Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”1  

- Anonymous

I really tried to find who wrote this quote but it has remained a mystery so I attributed it to one of the wisest sources I’ve ever come across – Anonymous.

When my Brain and I thought about beginning this post with this quote, it struck me as kind of a downer. So I set it aside. But after thinking about it for quite some time, it started to make sense. Why? Because it dawned on me that there’s something that we all have but in ever diminishing quantities. And no one, no matter how much money they have can buy more of it.

It’s called time.

Time doesn’t discriminate or play favorites and I don’t want to waste any of it as our time is valuable. That said, I think it’s worth investing a few minutes to discuss where we’re all headed and what we hope to become.

When talking about the future in general we could say tomorrow is the future. Or next week is the future. Both of these statements are true. But the real truth is the future is happening right now. Boom. We’re in the future. Here it is. But wait. Now it’s over. It’s in the past. Just like that. Moment by moment the future becomes the present and one moment later it becomes the past.

Tick. Tock. Time flies. right?

Now let’s talk about the past – but for just one second. That’s all the time we’re going to dedicate to it because, quite honestly, while it has shaped our present, there’s really nothing we can do about it. It’s done. When we do think about it, it’s called a memory. Sometimes we think of it in terms of a regret. Which is nothing more than an opportunity realized too late.

So let’s go back to the future and the question I posed.

How many futures might you have? (Don’t take too long, time’s a wastin’).

Time’s up.

The answer is; you have an infinite number of futures.

∞ > 1

Infinite is clearly greater than one. Which means, and again, I don’t mean to be a downer, but there are many, many more chances that the future we want is not going to be the one we’re going to get.

For our conversation today, let’s see if we can figure out how we might increase the odds of our success.

Let’s do that by first filtering that infinite number of futures down to three.

The first is a future known as your “Probable Future”.

Which implies there is also a second possible future:

This one is known as your “Improbable Future”.

And the third future I’d like to put on our list is what I call our “Desired Future”.

Desired Future. Wouldn’t you agree that sounds pretty good? But even after going from an infinite number of futures down to three, we still only have a 33% chance of getting where we want to go. So let’s increase our odds a bit more by using yet another formula.

+ > -

Positive is greater than negative. Not only in math but in our attitude toward life. It’s one of only two things we can absolutely control that will lead to a purposeful, meaningful, happy life.

The other thing we have control over is our actions. To that point, I believe action can be broken down into three fundamental types;

  1. Non-action. Which is essentially when we choose to do nothing.
  2. Re-action. Which is, when we respond to something that already happened – in the past.


  1. Pro-action. Which is taking action in anticipation of something that has yet to happen – in the future.

With that let’s now go back to our possible futures short list. 

Starting with our probable future.

Our probable future can be either good or bad. It depends in part on the type of actions we have, are, and will, continue to take. Typically, the “bad” or “less-desirable” probable future tends to happen when we choose non-action. Which is essentially the equivalent of staying inside our comfort zone and only doing that which is safe and familiar.

The “good” kind of probable future more often than not happens when we have a history of being pro-active, when we have a habit of using our imaginations, visualizing and preparing for our future – all of these play a role in being pro-active.

I want to share a fact I think you’ll find interesting, even astonishing perhaps;  Two-thirds of the American population are not pro-active in this regard. A 2017 survey released by DHM Research has found that only one-third (33 percent) of Americans have a life plan that they have committed to in writing and use to help guide them through the rest of their lives.2 And according to Lee Weinstein, author of  "Write, Open, Act: An Intentional Life Planning Workbook," most people spend more time planning a one-week vacation than identifying what outcomes they want to see in the major areas of their lives.3

Go figure.

Moving on to the “Improbable Future” category. For our purposes, this only requires an honorable mention. Improbable futures are, in my mind, things like, winning the lottery - no matter how much you play (my wife disagrees with me on this one). A more likely, but yet still improbable future might be, getting struck by lightning. You’re also probably not going to get run over by a bus, get bit by a deadly spider or a myriad of other ugly, horrible things. That said, it is best not to play golf in a lightning storm, look both ways before crossing the street and pay attention in general so you don’t fall victim to an improbable future. 

David Burn writes about an improbable future in the Talking Heads’ song, “Once in a Lifetime” in which he sings, “You find yourself in another part of the world, behind the wheel of a large automobile, in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife – and you have to ask yourself – How did I get here?”4 If you have to ask that question, the answer is likely that it’s because it was by chance rather than by design.

So if it’s happiness we’re after, and we don’t want to leave it up to chance, we’re going to have to work toward the last option - our Desired Future. And trust me, work will be involved.

Now I’d like you to consider this…

Our future is not a destination. It’s not a place we stay.

In fact, our Desired Future not one future at all. It’s many futures – a collection of futures. Futures of work. Futures of play. Futures of our mind, body and spirit. Futures that include a wide variety of people, places and things. I like to think of all of them as being on the horizon. If we look, we can see the horizon and we can set sail for it. But the thing is… we can’t actually ever get there - because as we sail, the horizon will move to another point beyond. And so, getting to our future is a journey.  Our journey is going to take time. Our journey is going to require work. That journey - it’s called life.

Let’s now chart our course and begin the journey to our desired future… toward our horizon.

With the “Where do we want to go?” question answered, the next obvious question is what David Byrne asks in his song, “How do we get there?”

Using a completely different but related metaphor, the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Let’s do as Lau Tzu suggests and go one step at a time. We’ll take one, and then another, and then another. Our journey to our desired future is, in actuality, a very simple process - of putting one foot in front of the other - with purpose and direction; taking the necessary steps to get where we want to go. The good news is it’s a tried and true process that, like single steps, is repeatable and something we can master.

Let’s take that first step by trying the following thought experiment.

I want you to make a list of things that you would like to accomplish over the coming days, weeks, months, years and decades. These entries are in essence, your desired futures.

For this exercise, I don’t want you to limit yourself. Be bold. Go as far as you like. At this point there are no ideas too big or outrageous. Don’t judge your ideas, just let them flow as a stream of consciousness. Don’t worry about how “realistic” or “practical” your ideas are. Just dump them all out.

By not limiting yourself I also mean your ideas can be large or small - long term or short term – easy or difficult.

Use your imagination. Some fantasy entries are completely acceptable and even helpful at this point. 

To help you get started, here are a number of categories for you to consider:

PLAY (Hobbies, sport):

MIND (Learning, Education)

BODY (Health, Exercise, Diet)

SPIRIT (Give Back, Charity, Spiritual, Religion)

PEOPLE (Relationships, Family, Friends, Partner/Mate, Colleagues,


PLACES (Home, Travel - Local, National, International)

THINGS (Purchases - large and small)

FINANCE / MONEY (Earning, Saving, Investing)

The important thing is to record your thoughts and ideas and have them to reference later. This will get them out of your head and make them real. Just put it all out there and have some fun with it.

After all, your future is ultimately up to you.

This post is an excerpt from my online course entitled, “Embracing Change”. If you’d like to learn more about the course or sign up for my free “Every So Often Change For The Better Letter” you can do both by visiting






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