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?

What Would You Do With A Million Dollars?

If something unforeseen happened and you suddenly received an unexpected million dollars, what would you do with it?

Several states are offering money, through a random drawing, for people who have received the COVID vaccine. Ohio, for example, has already given away a prize of a million dollars.

Now, a million dollars is not the amount of money it used to be. Still, for the majority of Americans, a million dollars would be a life-changing amount of money. Plus, the fact that it is not a ridiculous amount of money might make it more challenging to think of various possibilities.


Related: Listen to the Intellectual Roundtable podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the question, ‘How much is enough?’ The discussion comes after a bonus question, ‘How much of our thoughts are our own?’


What would you do with that kind of money?

Perhaps you would spend it. One way is to pay off your mortgage, or even buy another house. You could eliminate any student debt. You might go on a lavish vacation. Or buy a fancy car.

You might decide to save the money (or at least some of it). You could invest in the stock market, start a business, or go back to school.

Alternately, you might donate some or all of it. You could help struggling friends or family members. There are any number of worthy causes that could be assisted.

Do you think you would leave your job? You could switch to another, more fulfilling job if you had some financial cushion. You might even take an early retirement, depending how close you are to retirement age.

Ultimately, knowing what you would do with a sudden windfall may just influence how to spend the money that you do have.  What would you do with a million dollars?

Related questions: What is the purpose of money? Time or money? How do you plan for the future?

Are We Living Through History?

When reading through history books, it is easy to wonder about people who lived through historic events. Were they aware they were making history?

What did people living in the 1930s think about the Great Depression? Did they appreciate the magnitude of what was happening, or were they just trying to survive from day to day?

Did the young men fighting in the Civil War think that what they were doing would be written down and studied? Perhaps, instead, it was just what was happening in their lives at that time.

There were plenty of people who joined the Civil Rights marches in the 1960s. And there were others that opposed them. Were they speaking to future generations, or just trying to convince others to help them?

We are living through a global pandemic, political upheaval, racial unrest, and environmental catastrophe. Someday in the future, will students read about us in their textbooks? Will they learn about what happened here and now, and wonder about the people — us — that lived through it?

Are we living through history?

Related questions: What historical figure would you like to meet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? Should we be concerned with legacy? What do we owe the future?

Will The Future Be Better Than The Present?

Occasionally, it seems like progress is presented as inevitable. The present is better than the past, and the future will be better still. But is that actually true? Will our future be better than today?

There is no doubt that we face many problems in the present day that threaten our future. From climate change, to pollution, to overpopulation, to species extinction, and on and on.

And yet, there is still hope that, even if we can’t definitively solve these problems, at least we’ll make a start. Extrapolating the advances in science and technology over the last hundred to two hundred years provides some hope.

Carbon capture may reduce the level of greenhouse gases. At the same time, cold fusion could solve the problem of plenty of cheap, clean energy being generated, enough for the world’s population.

It goes beyond science and technology. Over the last hundred years, there have been few investments more reliable than the stock market. Yes, there have been notable crashes, but the overall trend line is up. Similarly, real estate prices have been good investments historically (at least since real estate has become a thing). Why wouldn’t these areas continue going up in the days ahead?

We are also making consistent progress in other areas. Slavery was legal throughout the world just two hundred years ago. Global poverty is declining (or at least it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). Why shouldn’t we see a future with fewer human rights violations, and more protection for minorities and those at risk?

But we have seen stretches in history where progress has stagnated or even reversed. Is a future where that comes to pass just as likely?

What do you think? Will our lives continue to improve in the future, or is society about to crash? Or somewhere in between?

Related questions: Is life today better than in the past? What do we owe the future? How do you plan for the future? Past, present, or future? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?