Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Having different visions of ourselves in the future is key

Humankind's vision of the future implies co-evolution: that is, how our self-perception of the future will influence us in the present

Published: Jan 16, 2024 11:18:15 AM IST
Updated: Jan 17, 2024 12:24:50 PM IST

Having different visions of ourselves in the future is keyAccording to Strauss, people that have this clear vision of who they want to become are more proactive. Image: Shutterstock

During the Science and Society Conference 2023, Professor Karoline Strauss, ESSEC Business School, led us through the importance of having multiple visions of future selves, to face the coming changes. Let’s go further.

Having different visions of ourselves in the future is the key. From an interview with Karoline Strauss conducted by Antonin Gaveau.

“Future-proof future selves are not narrow and static, but reflect interconnected ideas of who we want to become,” asserts Prof. Karoline Strauss at ESSEC Business School. So, let’s unpack what’s behind this.

Much of Prof. Strauss’ previous research has been on how having a clear vision of who you want to become in the future is beneficial for people in managing their careers. According to Strauss, people that have this clear vision of who they want to become are more proactive.

“They’re more likely to develop skills they’ll need in the future,” says Prof. Strauss, “build networks, seek advice, and also make plans.” In a nutshell, the idea is about having a clear idea of who you want to become. In the research Prof Strauss presented at the Science & Society Conference at ESSEC, the message is that we look at future selves differently.

“Rather than having a single clear image of who you want to become,” affirms Strauss, “we think of them instead as networks or webs of aspirations. It’s not about having a specific idea of being in a particular job role in a particular organization in a particular space,” continues Prof. Strauss. “It’s to think more broadly about what kind of qualities your future self has, the kind of relationships your future self has with others, and how your future self is seen by other people.” To sum up, it’s basically a broader view of who we are as a person that isn’t just defined by a very specific and narrow job role.

The influence of the future on our present behaviours

Humankind’s vision of the future implies co-evolution: that is, how our self-perception of the future will influence us in the present.

“This means revising who we think we will become in the future,” states Karoline Strauss. “We get new ideas, we learn about ourselves, we find out about things that are no longer possible, and we need to revise who we think we will become. It’s an ongoing and dynamic process.”

However, to what extent can we be optimistic or not regarding the future of work? Prof Strauss is indeed positive about human nature. And this, in turn, makes her optimistic about the future of work.

What she studies is how people think about themselves and how they think about themselves in the future. She believes that humans have always found a way of doing that and to find value in who they are: “The presence of AI is not necessarily going to change this really fundamental human ability to think of ourselves in positive ways and to look forward,” asserts Professor Strauss.

Also read: The secret ingredient for a successful career change

Tips to deal with the change to come

Having different visions of ourselves in the future is key. During the Science and Society Conference 2023, Professor Karoline Strauss, ESSEC Business School, led us through the importance of having multiple visions of future selves, to face the coming changes. Let’s go further.

To return to the notion of thinking of ourselves in broad terms of how we define ourselves, we are not one thing. Strauss illustrates this through the example of professional athletes where their professional identity can get quickly derailed. “Think, for example,” says Strauss, “of a sportperson who gets injured. Suddenly, the future that you envisioned for yourself of being selected for the team no longer exists. Indeed, maybe now you’re not going to the Olympics and this has always been a dream.”

“Similarly,” continues Strauss, “in the world of work, you might have to rethink what the future will look like. The advice I would give is not to have all of our eggs in one basket in terms of how we define ourselves. Secondly we must think of ourselves broadly in terms of the multiple roles we play in our lives. This entails deriving meaning and purpose from more than one place that really isn’t just work – and where it is work, really not just a specific job role.”

“Finally, I would emphasise my earlier thought: don’t think of yourselves narrowly as just one thing. And, stepping slightly out of the future of work scenario, I would highlight the research on the central role that status and wealth plays in what we’re trying to do in our lives. This research was recently published by a group of Australian researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology as a meta-analysis looking at life goals and having them focused either on personal growth, on close relationships, and on community giving on the one hand, versus wealth and status, and so, financial and material success on the other hand.”

“The evidence is quite compelling,” stresses Prof. Strauss, “that pursuing goals in that first category is associated with higher levels of well-being. It’s a little bit more complex when it comes to the goals of that second category. But when those dominate, when people pursue those goals to the detriment of goals in the first category, that has a negative effect. If I had to offer young people some advice,” states Prof. Karoline Strauss, “in case you are trying to become rich and famous, just make sure this is not the most important thing in your life.”

Karoline Strauss is Professor of Management at ESSEC Business School.


This article was first published in CoBS Insights.