How I Time Traveled to Send a Message to My Future Self
Recently I was cleaning out some old memorabilia from a closet and came upon several curious letters, all written on letterhead from various television stations around the country, all dated in late 1979. It took me a minute to recognize what they were, but as I read through them, I realized that they were all rejection letters, written to me from various television news executives.
Why had I kept these? I wondered. I vaguely remembered applying for the jobs for which the news directors had obviously felt I was not qualified. It was at a time in my television career when I was looking to make that next step toward more responsibility, a bigger city and a bigger salary.
I tried to get inside the brain of that 1979 version of myself to understand what I was feeling at the time. Why did I save these seemingly negative documents? Was I trying to keep myself humble by reminding myself that there were plenty of people who thought I wasn’t up to the task? Was there some hidden streak of masochism causing me to flog myself for my inadequacies? Neither of those reasons seemed correct to me.
What I finally decided was that I must have kept the letters specifically for this particular moment in 2018. I concluded that it might very well have been my version of time traveling, a way of sending a message to my "future self." Yet at the time, I could not have been sure of what that exact message might be.
Strange as it sounded, that rang true. After all, weren't there many times in my life when I felt that a particular event held some sort of special meaning, but I wasn't sure of the full meaning at the time? The loss of a loved one, a failure in romance, a layoff, a poor investment—they all were life events whose significance only my future self could fully appreciate. My younger self must have sensed significance in those letters, but also must have suspected that it would require a future self to totally understand what that significance was.
And my present-day self did understand. Each of those letters represented a path not taken, not because I didn’t want to take it, or didn’t try to take it, but because someone else decided that for me. It was a reminder that my future is not totally in my control; I am not the master of my own fate.
And there was a second part to the message: the fact that I am not in complete control of my life is not necessarily a bad thing. Closed doors guided me as much as open ones had. That’s the message the present-day version of me now understands, but a message my 1979 version could only take on faith.
That 1979 version of me who was rejected for a TV news reporting job in Green Bay, WI, Greenville, SC and Jacksonville, FL didn’t know that his 1981 version would get a job in Seattle. He didn't know that his 1985 version would marry a woman there that was to be his lifelong companion, and that his 1991 version would stumble into weather forecasting. That early version of me didn’t know that my 1999 self would eventually be laid off in Seattle and then move his family to Atlanta to take a job at a national network. But the present-day version of me can look back on all those events and see that although none of them was completely under my control, each of them had positive results.
So I’m thankful that my 1979 self sent me that message, even if he didn’t fully understand it at the time. I can’t travel back in time to thank him, but what I can do is send a message ahead to my 2028 and 2038 selves. That message is this: Life is most productive when you make the most of the path you’re on, not when you fret about what the other paths might have held.
So, to my future self: Stop trying to be in control. Don't dwell on what might be on the other side of that closed door. Continue to make the most of every open door. And one more thing, future self...you're welcome.
© Nick Walker 2018
If you could send a message to your future self, what would it be? Please leave a comment below.