Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking for “Universals”

When I first started doing my research into personal futures, I searched for "universals." I was looking for the things that all people have in common in their lives. What do we all share? Past, present, and future?

Biology is an obvious starting point. We all live through the same lifecycle of birth, life, and death. I spent a considerable amount of time looking at life stages going back to the writings of the ancient Greeks up through Shakespeare's "seven ages of man" and on to the work of Eric Erickson in the mid-20th century. All have observed that we humans pass through different stages of life. Some of those stages are purely biology based on physical and mental growth or decline. Other stages, later in life, are related more to health.

So here was my first universal, the stages of life. And I found the stages very helpful, because breaking life into stages highlighted the points in life where change occurs. And that's what the future is about: change. We want to identify things that are going to change in our lives in the future. So this made a good starting point. No matter what age you are or what time of life, there are stages ahead that you can identify, visualize, and understand as being times of change.

I did make some adjustments to the traditional stages, primarily because we are all living longer now. Psychologists have considered “Old Age” to begin at 50 or 55, based largely on Erikson’s work. I extended middle age to 60 and changed “Old Age” to “Independent Elder.” Later. (after some protests in my workshops) I just used “Independent.” I also added three optional stages which are based primarily on an individual’s health. Some people pass through all three optional stages, and others skip them all. The terms I used for those three optional stages are self-explanatory: “Vulnerable,” “Dependent,” and “End of Life.”

The second set of universals rose out of my research with people over age sixty. As I categorized the responses from questionnaires and interviews, I realized that all of us are true multi-taskers. We deal with several levels of life every day, and these levels are the forces that drive our personal lives. I chose the term “Domains” for the six different categories:

• Activities
• Finances
• Health
• Housing
• Social
• Transportation

These domains are each described in detail in the Personal Futures Workbook, which is available as a free download at www.PersonalFutures.Net.

Beyond life stages and personal domains I found areas of commonality, but no more real universals. We all have events that occur in our lives, but those events vary with individuals and with cultures. We all have values, but values also vary with individuals and cultures. But the combination of what any individual can anticipate from life stages, personal domains (forces), life events and personal values provides a substantial base from which one can anticipate plausible futures in scenarios, then make plans for the future.

Although it seems obvious, I was impressed by the variables, both by chance and by choice, that can affect or change any individual’s future. The chances and choices seem limitless, yet anyone, starting with wherever they may be in life, can learn a great deal about their future.

And this affects everyone, including you. By simply taking the time to analyze where you are in your life now and what forces are bringing change into your life, you can anticipate a great deal about your future. Moreover, to a surprising extent, you can shape, change, create or determine your future.

I’ve been working with those concepts for over ten years now, and still find myself impressed with the possibilities we, each of us, has to manage our futures. All it takes is a little time and some thought. It will change your life.