Yesterday I received a list of questions from a reader who’s doing a university research project on me. His questions probed what caused me to quit my job last year, to put my own house in order and to start doing some things that might actually help save the world. It was a bit like being on the psychiatrist’s couch. One of the resources the researcher used to get background on me was my About the Author bio, the link to which is on my right sidebar. He was mostly interested in the self-critical way I described myself in my youth, possibly because he suspected that my Man in the Mirror self-criticism might have been an essential step to self-change. But in re-reading this bio I realized there was something else about it that had driven me to change my life: I had written the bio as an obituary from the future, describing not only the main elements of my life so far, but also the main elements of my life to come. By writing my ‘obituary’, my future story, I had made an irrevocable and very public commitment to make that story come true.

Of course, I have made that tacit commitment often in my blog, not just in that strange autobiography:

  • I have committed to either selling our house and building a new, exemplary, energy- and space-efficient one, or making our existing house more energy-efficient. I’m making progress on the latter.
  • I have committed to live simpler, consuming and wasting less, buying smarter, and buying local. I’ve made great progress on this, cutting my ecological footprint almost in half this year.
  • I have made a commitment to complete my novel, The Only Life We Know, set in the future, which describes a better way to live. It’s coming along, and my other book project, Natural Enterprise, is now complete.
  • I have made a commitment that my next career will be more socially and environmentally responsible, will give back much more, and will be better suited to what I do best (idea transfer, the ability to take an idea or invention or creation from one discipline and conceive of how it might be practically applied in a completely different discipline), than my last one. I’m still resolute about this, though it’s not easy, and my wife is a bit worried about how long it’s taking. The challenge is an ironic one: The process I describe in Natural Enterprise, of finding a need and filling it, has worked for so many but doesn’t work for me, because what I do best, and what I want to do, doesn’t yet meet a perceived urgent business need. I’m too far ahead of the curve, I guess.
  • And I have made a commitment to set an example for the next generation, by setting up a Model Intentional Community and by teaching the young about Gaia — the worldview that Earth is a single, self-organizing and self-regulating organism that knows better than any single species, and shows us, how we should all live — and then teaching them Critical Thinking skills, and finally showing them how to make a meaningful, joyous, self-sufficient living by creating Natural Enterprises.

In making all these commitments I have been, in my own head, writing my own future story. One of the skills I learned in consultant school was Future State Visioning, a process that goes like this:

  1. Write a plausible story, set in the future, that describes in day-in-the-life style, how things would operate if you were able to overcome all your current obstacles, take optimal advantage of the resources and opportunities available to you, and respond effectively to anticipated changes in the outside world between now and then.
  2. Perform a current state assessment that identifies all of the obstacles and ‘gaps’ that would need to be overcome in order to achieve this future vision.
  3. Develop a plan that addresses each of these obstacles and gaps.
  4. Develop a scorecard that measures your progress from the current state to the future state you have envisioned.

It’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Rather than setting objectives, goals, missions, and other abstractions that you know will never be achieved (and which you probably wouldn’t recognize even if they were), you write a story that illustrates, in concrete, understandable terms, what life would be like in your organization if you did all the right things the right way.

The same four-step process works just as well for individuals as it does for organizations. In fact, it’s even simpler: By writing your own ‘future’ story, the obstacles and gaps and plans and measures that stand between here to there will be pretty obvious. You only really need to do Step One, writing the story.

In my experience the hardest part is making it both transformational and plausible. If you’re an idealist like me, you tend to believe everything is plausible. As my wise friend Jon Husband keeps reminding me, you need to appreciate the difference between possible and plausible. It’s possible you’ll win the lottery or meet a rich, brilliant and loving person who will whisk you away to your definition of paradise. But it’s not plausible, not likely even under the most auspicious  of circumstances. However, if you’re a pessimist, or if you’re having a depressing day, your future story will fall far short of What Could Be, and won’t be enough to inspire you (in fact it might even discourage you). It’s a balancing act, one that requires a bit of courage, a lot of imagination, a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are, and a willingness to make a commitment to yourself to try to achieve the vision your story reveals.

There are those who believe that the mere process of imagining What Could Be, of sensing and affirming its possibility, already starts to impel you along the path to its realization. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame always had a future state vision of himself as a famous cartoonist, and he says that’s all he ever needed. No resolutions, no detailed plans, no personal scorecards, just a constant imagining of himself there, and the rest took care of itself.

Courage, imagination, dissatisfaction, and willingness to make a commitment to yourself. If you have these four qualities, your future story is waiting to be written. Leave it unwritten, or let others write it for you, and you will merely get to where you are already headed. Write your own story, and you just might find you’re on your way to What Could Be.

The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. What will your story be?

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kevin says:

    Very interesting and timely (for me) post Dave. If you are in touch with the university student please give him my email address and pass it on that I would like to at least see his paper if it will be finished soon, or better yet, get in contact with him to discuss the research. I am doing a similar research project now, which focuses on identifying and helping people to identify for themselves the barriers to their own success (in sustainable living terms), and how they can learn to plan strategically to move towards that vision, rather than simply following a “10 easy things to help the environment” guidebook.The strategic thinking process is the same as yours, but uses a little different lingo… we call it the “ABCD process”.A. Awareness, recognizing that the individual is part of a complex system, and being aware of the system boundaries. The boundaries are basic principles which we know from science can not continue to be systematically broken without the entire system collapsing.B. Baseline, (current state assessment) taking a look at our life today and identifying how we contribute to the violation of the principlesC. Clear and Compelling Vision. This is the step you speak of. Creating a clear vision success, a vision of what life would be like in a world where the the principles are not systematically violated. What would the individual’s life look like? We then “backcast” from success (as opposed to forecast which is looking at the current reality and trying to figure out what the future will be like). By looking back from our vision, we can identify measures (or commitments) that we can take to arrive there.D. Down to action. This iscreating the action plan, prioritizing the measures, deciding what we can do now, and what we can’t handle yet, but making sure that even the little steps are moving us closer to achieving our commitments.The vision aspect is definitely the key, and through my own experience, once that is in place, it becomes difficult to act in any way that would take me further from it. It seems so obvious, but still so many smart people who really have the desire and willingness are stuck on the question “But what can I do?”. They are simply lost without a vision of success. To that end, one other project I have had in my mind for some time now is a compilation of “sustainability stories”. Basically compelling stories of real people, like you and me, who are successfully moving toward a sustainable lifestyle. I’m thinking of the tone of Po-Bronson’s What should I With My Life . The world is full of people telling us what we should do, but as you note, there is a tremendous lack of stories of people actually doing it and succeeding. It is amazing how inspiring it can be to hear even the simplest of these stories. For example, a few weeks ago I visited a school here in Sweden built on the principles of sustainability. Green architecture and all that, but the most compelling and inspiring part was talking to the lunch lady. A mom from the community who refused to use the processed foods that all schools in sweden are required to. Instead, she orgnized a way to get organic food from local farmers at a lower cost, and now prepares their meals each day. She has organized projects with the kids to count and compare the kilometers that their meals have traveled and so on. It’s a simple and inspiring story from an ordinary person, and I doubt that she would ever write it herself, because to her it’s just natural.

  2. feith says:

    This post inspired the hell out of me. Thank you, Dave.Feith

  3. Raging Bee says:

    Sorry to hijack this thread with a shameless plug, but there’s a news item discussed in the latest entry in my blog that you may want to check out. I guess you could say I’m on-topic, since it’s about some law-enforcement types virtually making up a story about environmentalist terrorism, with (as far as I see) no supporting evidence.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Kevin: Thanks for this. ABCD is a neat acronym for the Future State Visioning process, and ‘backcasting’ is a good way of putting the process from there. My only quibble would be that once you’ve done the (C)visioning I think the (ABD) is usually pretty obvious, even intuitive. I’ve read Bronson’s book and was disappointed with it, because psychologically I think the success of others can actually discourage others who have self-doubts, rather than inspiring them to act themselves. I have the university student’s paper — e-mail me and I’ll get the OK to send it to you if you want, though I think it’s a lot more modest than your ‘barriers to success’ project.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Feith: Thanks.RB: Derrick Jensen has been following this, which is consistent with dozens of other semi-orchestrated attempts to portray anti-globalization activists as ‘industrial terrorists’ and anti-corporatist activists as ‘eco-terrorists’. Using what may be simply racist violence as an opportunity to whip up fear of anyone who interferes with the corporatist agenda is an age-old tactic. It’s a shame WP picked up on it — usually the best way to deal with this nonsense is to ignore it and not give it further publicity.

  6. Don Dwiggins says:

    Re “…my wife is a bit worried…”: I can certainly sympathize with that (and my wife even more so), and with the difficulty of finding/creating an enterprise that fits with your vision and also keeps bread on the table.You might find it interesting to read a biography of Bucky Fuller, e.g. “Buckminster Fuller’s Universe” by Lloyd Sieden. In his early life, he essentially became a complete failure economically, hitting bottom in 1927. Out of his depression came a commitment to always do the “right thing” for humanity, on the faith that if it were right, appropriate compensation would come. (This is a necessary oversimplification — read Chapter 5 of Sieden for a better sense of it.)On your intentional community: I hope you’ll give periodic progress reports, and also correspond with others who have current or past experience in similar endeavors.

  7. Kevin says:

    ” I’ve read Bronson’s book and was disappointed with it, because psychologically I think the success of others can actually discourage others who have self-doubts”

    Interesting. Although it did not cause or inspire me to change, it did encourage me when I was struggling with a desire to change already. Although at first I was put-off, thinking that it didn’t apply to me because I was not a rich investment banker who suddenly decided I wanted more meaning in my life. I didn’t see how it was relevant in my case, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the basic factors he was trying to get across did not rely on the money.

    “My only quibble would be that once you’ve done the (C)visioning I think the (ABD) is usually pretty obvious, even intuitive.”

    I agree. This whole thing is usually presented in the context of businesses and organizations, generally used to more structured action planning. How this translates for individuals is part of what I want to find out. Maybe because it is intuitive with individuals the ABD are give or take, case by case.On the other hand, it seems intuitive now, but think back to before you had a vision… What came first, awareness that something is not right with the current world, and an idea of what it is, or did you jump directly to a vision of a world you want to live in? Although we may not consciously think about it, before we create a vision of where we want to be, we first make some assumptions or basic principles that encompass that vision. In this case, the Awareness step is to make people aware that there are certain scientific principles that we can not violate lest the world breaks. These are inherent in the vision, even though they may not always be vocalized. It is not necessary to understand them, but it is very helpful.B and D are also intuitive, and I have never sat down and formally done a baseline of my life and set outspecific goals. Although, I think that when I do (soon) I will find a lot of things that I didn’t realize, and some low hanging fruit that can trigger some pretty simple but significant solutions. The steps may not be needed, but they may be useful. I just want to see to what extent.

Comments are closed.