Sunday, November 4, 2007

When do you start? When do you stop?

From time to time, people tell me “I’m too old to worry about the future.” The other side is when I’m asked “When are my children (or grandchildren) old enough to think about their future?”

My short answer: people should be thinking about their future at any age that they can do something about their future.

When teen agers start making decisions about their lives; what classes to take in high school, how much education they will pursue, what careers or jobs look interesting or whom whey may marry. They are starting to think and act on their future. At that age, many decisions or thoughts are simply reactions (have to fill in the blanks on a form) or responses to peer actions or pressures (“My friends are going to college” or “My friends belong to gangs).

In my opinion this is the time when young people should be given the opportunity and the tools to explore their possible futures, and to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Frankly, I believe that many young people simply drift into their futures with very little of their own thought. Many decisions before age twenty are made on emotion or peer pressure more than serious thought.
I also believe that teenagers who understand the future effects of their decisions or actions would be less likely to drop out of school or become involved in crime.

I won’t go any further down this path of “I believe…” because I recognize I have my own biases. But my own experiences tell me that people who have thought about the future and made a plan for the future have a better chance of achieving a future they want.

But let’s move on to the other end of the age scale. When are you too old to think about or plan for the future? I have talked to a lot of groups of older people (over 60). I’ve also done considerable research in this age group, and I’m surprised how many people say they are already too old to think about or plan for their future (A frequent response is “ I don’t even buy green bananas any more!”)

To a futurist, those responses are a little distressing. On the other hand, when I probe deeper I find there is more planning and thinking about the future than some of these people recognize as future thinking. Yes, they have long term care insurance. Yes, they have signed a “Do Not Resuscitate order. No! They don’t want to go to a nursing home. No, they don’t want their lives to end in an emergency room. Yes, they’re seeing to the education of their grand or great grandchildren. And, “We’ve booked a trip to India for next year. Making plans for a cruise after that.”

So age is not a factor in thinking about or planning for the future. If a person reaches a point where mental of physical problems take away the ability to take actions related to the future, then future thinking becomes limited. But that also seems to indicate the end of personal independence. Maybe that is the real key to personal futures.

In any case, when I speak to groups of older people, I’ll continue to encourage them to keep planning at least ten years ahead in their lives. With young people, I’ll encourage them to start thinking ten years ahead.

For more about Personal futures, visit my web site,

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