The phone rings, the sharp tone snapping me from my pleasant sleep-induced reverie and bringing me back to the present.
It’s 5:42 am on a Sunday.
Shit. I forgot to turn my ringer off like I normally do.
I try to file away my now interrupted thought for future contemplation while attempting to answer the call at the same time.
“Hey, it’s me. Did I wake you?”
That familiar pang of recognition mixed with confusion courses through me.
That voice. The timbre. The cadence.
It’s the first word that pops into my head as I try to place the voice, scrambling through my mental Rolodex, sifting through the voice files, the ones I should recognize.
It’s so familiar. But I can’t place it.
It’s older than I remember. More distinguished. Experienced.
There’s a edge I can’t place, a weariness.
But I should know this voice. I know I should. I’m sure of it.
“Heeeeey…ugh…no…” I manage to blurt out, stretching the word as long as I can and attaching the obvious lie at the end, the previous thought I was trying to hold now vanished into the ether, almost certainly never to be held again. I know I’m trying to buy myself time, to extend that momentary pause to let my brain connect the dots that appear just out of my reach, my sleep state slolwy receding.
And as often happens in these situations, the other party realizes that although their voice is oddly familiar, I’m at a loss – I can’t place them. The moment where they take pity on me, culling my shame.
“I know you can recognize my voice, but you can’t place me. I’ll explain that in a moment but what I’m about to tell you will sound weird. You’ll have to suspend disbelief and give yourself a chance to believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“Uh, ok…” That’s the best I could stammer as I realize he said weird, too. There was no way, with a preamble like that, that I was going to suspend anything. As a generally skeptical person, when your preface a statement with me having to suspend disbelief, it’s probably going to make me do the opposite.
That’s like when someone tells you to trust them. All of a sudden, that’s the last thing I want to do.
But, since I’ve been sheltered away in a pandemic for a better part of almost 2 years, I figure, why not? Let’s play the game and see what this familiar stranger has to say, and what level of suspension will I have to apply to my disbelief.
“I’m you. From the future. 10 years in the future. I’m your future self. That’s why you recognize my voice. It’s your own voice.”
With those words the dots finally connected and it hit me like a tsunami. A current pulsed through my spine. My mind shook. That was my voice. It made sense now. It was my voice. But older. It was my voice. Close but different.
I was speaking to myself.
I shook my head, clearing it of imaginary cobwebs, shaking sense into it. Shaking the disbelief out. I had to be dreaming. This was a day dream.
I pinched the back of my hand, right on the space between my thumb and index finger, something I’d read about on the Google when I was obsessed with trying to lucid dream.
It didn’t work. Or it did. It was clear I wasn’t dreaming. This was real and I was talking to future me.
In the fraction of a time that it took me to turn that over in my mind, the voice – my voice – spoke again.
“I know it’s a lot to take, but this is important. You’re at a crossroads and this is your chance to make some choices. Better choices. The types of choices that will impact your future. My life. Do you have a few minutes to chat?”
Well, with an intro and lead like that, how could I decline the conversation?
“Uh, yeah…give me a second to clear some things off my calendar”.
Let’s be real, there was nothing to clear on my Covid Calendar, I just needed a few minutes to compose myself, to prepare for what inevitably was going to be a difficult and challenging conversation.
I loudly tapped a few keys on the computer that was perched precariously on my lap, shutting down the jumping baby goats in sweaters YouTube video rabbit hole I’d spent the better part of the last 40 minutes down. I hoped that clickitty-clackitty sound was picked up by my phone and transmitted to future me on the other end.
“Ok, I’m all ears.”
There was a deep pause on the other end. I thought I heard an even deeper sigh.
“Well, I can’t tell you how to live your life going forward. That’s not part of the deal. All I’m allowed to do is tell you about your biggest regrets over the next decade. The rest, and what you do with that information, is completely up to you. And I don’t have much time to tell you, maybe 5 minutes, maybe less. I’m running out of time.”
My mind was now spinning even more than before. I had so many questions. There was so much to ask, but I didn’t know where to start. And 5 minutes was definitely not enough time to get everything answered.
Before I had a chance to even ask anything, I heard my future self take a breath. The kind of breath taken before unloading a lot of uncomfortable personal stuff.
“We’ve had a lot of regrets. Some small. Some big. Some really, really big. There’s a lot of things we did that we shouldn’t have, and probably just as many things we didn’t do, that we should have done. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go through all of them. There’s only so much time before they find me, before they come for me, so I’ll try to cover the most important ones.”
Thoughts and words and things were flying through my mind but I didn’t want to say anything, I didn’t to interrupt future me from unloading this goldmine of information. Although there was a brief moment where I almost asked about a hot stock tip, I managed to bite my tongue as I recognized not everyone has an opportunity to learn fro their future self what their biggest regrets 10 years into the future are.
This was not only an opportunity to learn from the future, but an opportunity to reshape the future. My future.
“Let’s start with something simple.” I heard my own voice, that familiar yet distinct voice, reflected back at me from my phone as a pressed the speaker closer to my ear. “Let’s start with some simple regrets before we get into the big ones. That being said, just because these next few regrets appear small, doesn’t mean they didn’t have far reaching ripple effects – the so-called butterfly effect – some of these act like that.”
“You have my attention…” and I did have my attention. I was rapt with attention. Ready to absorb this info, integrate it, and do the needful with it.
“The first regret is about opportunities.”
“Do you mean, missed opportunities?” the words rushed out before I could stop them. So much for composure and restraint.
“Yes. But it’s more than that. It’s not just opportunities not taken, the missed opportunities, it’s also the opportunities squandered. The ones you took, but didn’t follow through on, didn’t see to the end.”
Future me paused to let present me consider what had been said. Damn, I got good at dramatic pauses in the future. But it also made me realize that was an unfair statement.
“I get that, to a certain degree, but how am I supposed to know which opportunities to follow through on, and which ones should be stopped early because they’ll lead to a dead end. For you, that’s easy, you have the power of hindsight. 20/20. You can look back and use the information you have to evaluate differently than what I’m able to do looking forward.”
“Yes, that’s true” future me started his measured reply “but deep down in your own mind, you know where you pulled the rip cord too soon; because you were tired, because you were lazy, because you didn’t care, because you chased the next shiny thing. You got tired of doing the boring work, the detail work, the grunt work. The stuff that connects the dots between A and Z. You’ve always been into the big picture, the lofty ideas, the big plans. The dreams. The visions. And once you start on them, doing the work to keep them going gets tedious, it’s not as exciting, right? And so you stop and find a new big idea to jump on. Leaving a trail of unfinished opportunities.”
I wasn’t wrong. It was tough to hear me tell me this stuff. I’d been told this stuff by others before, but those were easy to throw off and ignore. They didn’t know me, what I did, how I thought. But here, I knew me. And it was me calling myself out. That was hard and I knew this was just the beginning. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the call?
“I know this is hard to hear” Wow. It was like I was reading my own mind “but you need to hear it. What you do with it is up to you, as I said.”
“Ok, I’m listening.”
“You’re not wrong that saying yes to something is saying no to something else. There is only so much time and energy, only so many resources you have available. They’re finite and limited. If they’re directed in the wrong way, even if done enthusiastically, you won’t reach your destination, the journey will be wasted in some ways. Picture yourself on a boat on a river. Now picture yourself rowing as hard as you can. Furiously stroking those oars, slicing the water in perfect symmetry and propelling yourself across the glass-like surface. Now imagine your boat is pointed in the wrong direction. You won’t ever reach your destination. You’ve focused so hard on rowing that you didn’t make sure the boat was pointed the right way. Wasted energy. Wasted time. Wasted effort. Until you stop to course correct.”
“Am I doing that in my life right now?” I needed to know. Man, did I need to know. I wanted my boat pointed in the right direction, the sooner the better.
“As I told you before, I can’t give you specifics other than highlighting the regrets themselves. This was about opportunities. Both taken and squandered. The boat was the opportunity you took. Not looking at the compass was where you squandered it. Keep your eye on the direction before putting all your effort in. Keep your focus on the shores you wish to land upon.”
Ugh. Future me was talking in rhymes with jumps in logic that weren’t making sense to me. Is this how I am? Hmm…looking back at this, yeah, seems on brand. I couldn’t fault future me for being like me, I suppose.
“Time is running out. I can hear them. They’re close by. I must continue.”
I could hear the tension in my oddly familiar voice as the stress of muttering those sentences altered the pitch slightly. There was as rustling sound and the voice came back, lower, muffled, speaking in hushed whispers.
“We’ve talked about opportunities, now let’s talk about freedom. You used to be free. You didn’t always realize it back then. But you had untold freedoms. You were free to make choices. Now, I don’t have that luxury because of choices you made. You didn’t appreciate it like you should have. It’s gone now. Lost forever.”
“What kind of freedoms did I take for granted?” I needed to know so I could preserve these untold freedoms into my future.
“There’s not time to go into details. I’m hiding from them but I know they’ll find me. They always do. It won’t be long now. I can hear them, they’re getting closer. You must listen!” The words rushed out, coated in the desperation of one facing imminent danger.
“Go on…” my own voice mimicked the quiet tones, as we do. I could feel the solitary bead of cold sweat, birthed from nothing, start meandering down between my shoulder blades, the hairs on my arm standing upright, the thudding in my chest in synchronicity with future me, in solidarity, my breath catching. I could hear my future panic. Feeling it wrap itself around my present self in its cold embrace.
This was no joke. The danger was real. I had to listen. This was my chance to avoid what was coming for future me.
“They’ve almost found me. THEY’RE SO CLOSE. Listen carefully. This is the big one. The one with the biggest impact on your future life. It impacts every aspect in so many ways. I have to tell you before it’s too late…before you make this mistake…”
A loud scream, almost a squeal erupted in my ears. It sounded like murder. Like death. Like the end.
A door opening. The whoosh of air as hinges creaked against an incredible, terrifying force. The force of darkness.
Future me had been caught. They had found him. I knew instantly that this was the end.
“Daddy! We found you! Were you hiding from us again?”
A thunderous clatter. It was the unmistakable sound of a phone hitting the floor. Muffled voices. More screams and squeals.
Before the line abruptly went dead, I heard the faint echoes of his last entreaty.
“Bob, don’t make the same mistakes. Remember the biggest regrets…”
Then silence. Deafening. All encompassing. Final.
Realization struck me like a punch to the stomach. The air rushing out of me as my shoulders slumped, my body going limp. Drained. This was huge.
Bob? My name’s not Bob.
This was a wrong number.
I put down my phone, and resumed gently stroking my little babbies, my two dozing sphynx cats, and fell back asleep on this lazy Sunday morning.