In the book Financially Fearless (which I am reading because I am a cliched twenty-something without any clue about how to manage my finances, TV-Sitcom-Stereotype, natch!), Alexa von Tobel posits that you have to think of your future self as a friend.
You’ll only save for the future, she says, if you can empathize with the version of yourself that’s gonna need all that money, way down the line. That cantankerous bum! You gotta start warming up to his wrinkly noggin tonight.
And fellers? She ain’t wrong.
I’ve never made friends with future me.
I’m not gonna lie – I have a pretty tenuous relationship with the version of me that exists right now, this very second. That guy likes to eat and drink and take naps and won’t even lift a lazy pinky to start making friends with the version of himself in the future — you know, he’s balding, too? Thin half moon, right in the front of his scalp — Frier Tuck with a garden of stray weeds.
(Or so my hair cutter tells me.)
(She knows how to up-sell expensive shampoos.)
You know, my gums are receding, too? Pulling back, ‘cuz I brush too hard? Like ineffectual little pink turtle necks, just unravelling, and here I thought they were made of kevlar…
Point is: when older Michael is older, he’s gonna look like a literal skeleton. But let’s get back on track.
I think the only version of myself that I’m really friends with is the version of me that exists in the past. That’s sad, I gathered. I feel, sometimes, like that world-weary cowboy in any cliched movie — “You’re the Waco Kid?”
Emphasis on the was.
It’s not that I was all that great in the past.
Only I’m pretty sure I didn’t know I wasn’t all that great. Didn’t have enough of a past myself back then to cling onto, you know? So it was all future projection, all the time. All ephemeral, gaseous dreams.
Outlandish stuff, too. I wasn’t realistic. I just figured I’d one day be everything, all the time. I loved the game of Life, especially that part at the end? When you all park your pastel colored minivans in the retirement center parking lot? Start unloading your plastic pink and blue babies and then count your Llife cards, all the accomplishments you’ve achieved?
“Wrote the Great American Novel — $100,000”
“Climbed Mount Everest — $50,000”
“Discovered A Way To Cure Male Pattern Baldness — Priceless”
And so I have this idea in my head of my past self as this kind of charming wide-eyed dreamer, and I can’t help being terrified close to all the time that I’ve let that kid down.
I guess I’m so busy reflecting on that idea that I can’t really make nice with future me. I just see him as older. Balder. Bitter, less idealistic and fresh and somehow worse than my past self.
And present me? Man, I’m just the messenger. The guy in the middle. Here to flip you the middle finger, future old-man me. The middle finger’s from past me, on the edge of seventeen and cocky and knowing he’s gonna save the world and pretty upset that you didn’t.
He didn’t save you any money either, bud. Don’t shoot the messenger.
He’s a demanding little memory, you want to know the truth of it.
I’m kind of tired of holding him in such esteem.
The thing is, I’d like to make nice — I really would!
Because I kind of wish past me had made nice with the idea that current me could ever exist. Someone who isn’t fabulously successful, but isn’t totally downtrodden and off, either. Present me? I’m just a guy. Stubbly. Not the best shape. I’ve already told you about my hair.
My accomplishments are modest, but I love them, like children. Past me? What did that guy ever do? He had pretty terrific hair (Facebook reminds me of that every time it cheerfully shares a digital memory). Maybe that’s really all that matters.
He set the course for who I’ve become, planted the seeds, and the weird thing is I kind of love him for that, even though I’m not sure he’d love me for me.
That’s a drag.
I hope he would.
I guess the thing is that it doesn’t matter.
I’ve written before that dreams are weightless — lovely, but without work they are nothing. So I’d like to propose that the dreams of the past don’t matter all that much — your accomplishments do. Like landmarks that chart success.
Your current dreams matter, too. Let them become the future, but only if you work at it.
And don’t beat yourself up too hard if all of those dreams don’t come true.
Because the only victim is gonna be the little old person sitting at the end of the road. That wrinkling old sap in a retirement center who you’ll become, surrounded by plastic children and a fistful of cards telling him the things he did right.
Man, that guy’s gonna need a friend right then, don’tcha think? Gumless and without a follicle of hair to call his own. Good thing for him hair isn’t money. And that’s only true if that old guy has any.
So let’s be friends! Offer up warm, friendly hugs from the people we are now to the people we will be at the very end.
And as we do it we’ll pretend, just like with monsters, that the possibility of their very existence doesn’t terrify us to the core.