How Much Does Your Past Determine Your Future?

It is tempting to think that your future is laid out in front of you. Anything is possible, given the proper choice in the current moment.

However, that is not true. In reality, choices made in your past determine which choices are available to you in the present.

For example, the decision you made in third grade to play trumpet in band class means that today you won’t be auditioning for a drummer in a rock-n-roll band. Or, perhaps, your choice to major in English literature means you probably won’t be getting a job at NASA as an engineer.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What book has had the biggest impact on you?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘How do you show thanks?’


Of course, there are exceptions to this. All the time, people end up in careers that have little or nothing to do with their college major. Throughout your life, you can choose to take up a new hobby. You might go back to school to learn something new.

However, it is true that at a young age, it is easier to learn new skills. Appropriately exposed, young children find it much easier to learn multiple languages than as an adult. If you learn to ski at a young age, your muscle memory is more ingrained than later in life.

Can you think of moments in your life where you choose a particular path that helped determine how things played out for you? Are there times in your past life that a different choice would have opened up — or closed — other options for the current you?

Similarly, there are some choices that you might make right now, in the present, that will determine what possibilities exist for future you. How might you make decisions now to best benefit your future self?

The actions you have taken throughout your life might have consequences for you now. How much does your past determine your future?

Related questions: What is time? How have you changed? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned? What do you wish you had learned as a child? Will the future be better than the present?

1 thought on “How Much Does Your Past Determine Your Future?”

  1. While our past greatly influences our future, it does not determine it completely. Chance, our mood at the time decisions get made, and genetics (kind of part of our past) are few other things that influence our future.

    That noted, the past is very important. What were our experiences during childhood — especially early childhood? What were our social determinants of health growing up (i.e., economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, social and community context)? Was discrimination something that held us back, or did privilege grant us opportunities others did not have? Were our parents loving (or not)? What of other guardians or mentors (or lack thereof)? How did the kindness (or not) of our friends, family, colleagues, or strangers influence us? Who were our friends, and what were their likes and dislikes?

    So, yes, our past greatly influences our future.

    To directly answer the question, here are some things from my past that greatly influenced my future:
    • My Mom taught me the ABCs and numbers as well as read to me quite often as a young child, significantly impacting my ability and desire to keep learning.
    • I fell from a second story outdoor stairway as a young child. I was not found for several hours before I was rushed to the hospital. I suffered a major concussion that kept me in the hospital for eight days (during which I experienced a form of aphasia — I could only speak gibberish). Longer-term, I my sense coordination was impacted greatly, some of which I still struggle with (e.g. please don’t throw a ball at me expecting it to be caught and keep knives out of my reach).
    • I, with my Mom and sister, moved from North Minneapolis to rural Wisconsin for my Mom to remarry, giving me many opportunities with nature — including a budding relationship with gardening.
    • My high school guidance counselor convinced me that I could go to a major university instead of a two-year business school.
    • I lived with my uncle for two and a half years or college, paying a very modest rent, which allowed me to not take out as much in student loans.
    • I, as a young Republican, started hanging out with a bunch of lefties and doing activist work with them on homelessness issues almost immediately upon entering my freshman year at the University of Minnesota. Within a year, my politics changed immensely.
    • I convinced myself to see a mental health therapist roughly 20 years ago, confirming that I’ve struggled with Anxiety and Depression for most of my life, while also finding me the right meds (several times) to reduce the impact of each on my daily life.
    • I remarried just a little over 15 years ago. My spouse and I love each other dearly and help each other be our best selves possible.
    • Encouragement from a colleague as well as a beautiful seed catalog, ignited a desire to only grow veggies from heirloom and open-pollinated seeds in my garden. As a result, I care deeply about the world’s diminishing seed diversity and do many things personally and systemically to expand our natural seed supply.

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