A few years ago, a friend told me, “The future is easy to predict but hard to believe.”
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the same holds true for you. As a freelancer, a creative, an artist, an entrepreneur, or however you self-define professionally, you are the Michelangelo carving and chopping away at a block of marble that resembles you in a few not-too-distant years.
One thing to keep in mind. What you choose to see or identify with as the future version of you (you 2.0 let’s call it), will be determined by how you invest in your mind, your time, and your active practices professionally. Let’s walk through a few simple tips that can help anyone better shape their future.
Tip 1: Dedicate time to designing the future you want
This seems obvious. Empowering yourself to take more active ownership of the future you wish for in your life is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. But many of us overlook it. We’re too buried in the demands of the now. Too busy to seriously think about next month. Too exhausted to plan anything else.
I’ve been there and I get it, having worked myself into a stroke in my twenties. But owning your future requires you to make time and plant seeds in your mind for who you will become and what you want your life to look like.
Think on it, plan it, and don’t take it for granted. The preferred You 2.0 won’t happen if you don’t honor your future self and prioritize becoming that person.
It sounds almost ridiculous, but anything worth doing is worth dedicating time toward. Make a plan, think about your future, your wants and needs, the learnings you require, the skills you need to build. Write a list of desires and jot down some specific dates and goals or outcomes you seek professionally, financially, and so forth.
Your “future you” deserves a design and a plan. If you’re feeling stuck, seek out a career coach or mentor. Watch videos about other people whose journeys inspire you. Keep moving forward and don’t delay.
Oh, and by the way, putting in the hard work now is a given. There’s no way around making your future happen other than by accepting the active process of moving through obstacles and creating yourself. This means that wherever you place your focus and your momentum on a daily basis will lead you eventually to becoming the new you. It’s axiomatic, I think and I do, therefore I become. And it requires making an active psychological commitment.
Tip 2: Flex your creative visualization muscle
While the future you may seem unknowable at the present moment, a simple creative visualization technique can help bring you 2.0 closer into view.
Sure, everyone’s meditating these days. That’s a good thing. But building the future you requires meditation and creative visualization. One key to creating the future version of you is to quietly practice activating your imagination. Think of this as filling the bucket deep in your mind with positive intentions and attention every day.
Eventually, your bucket overfloweth and a new you emerges within your mind. This happens because you are training your brain to orient to a clear and concrete vision of who you and what you look like in the future.
Here’s a simple creative visualization exercise:
Take a few deep breaths and slowly exhale. For the next five minutes, relax or close your eyes and picture the person you wish to become. Where are you? What are you doing? What are you working on that’s exciting? Who are you interacting with and how happy, inspired, or fulfilled are you in your work? Start to focus on these considerations and a more clear picture of you emerges. Practice this exercise once a week at least.
Once you have more clarity, you can begin writing down the vision you have and keep it close to you. Tape it to your wall, put a copy on your desk and your computer. Embrace that person. Commit to the vision, open your your heart and your mind to becoming the person in that vision. This exercise requires you to apply thinking toward not who and what you are today, but who and what you will become in a year, five years or ten years from now.
As an additional practice, think about and state your vision in “I am” language. “I am a respected designer.” “I am an inspiring and well-paid copywriter.” “I am a go-to marketer who wows people with my ingenuity and savvy.” “I am earning more as a consultant because I’m in-demand and have clients who refer me steady business.” “I am very proud of the creative portfolio I’ve created and the feedback I’ve received is awesome.”
Tip 3: Develop your ESP
By “ESP” we’re not talking about Extrasensory Perception. We mean developing your potential through Experimenting, Storytelling, and Persuasion... or ESP.
All three are vital skills for any freelance professional, no matter your level or expertise or how you earn a living. And even better, all three are easy to understand and easy to do.
E stands for Experiment: Every day presents opportunities for us to try new approaches to growth, new pathways to learning and validating our ideas, and new ways of becoming better at professional endeavors that bring us more money, meaning, and momentum.
Experimenting is fun. It’s where you allow yourself to try and fail, conduct simple tests and get uncomfortable by avoiding the pitfalls of living by routine or blind habit.
For example, it could mean experimenting by learning and applying new ways of communicating or applying novel solutions to a complex problem.
Maybe you want to solve for productivity. Try shortening your working hours and forcing yourself to get more done more quickly. Instead of an 8-hour day, maybe you only allocate 5 hours. That’s it. Now get it done.
Maybe you want to grow your network or contacts. Force yourself to meet one new person each day. Introduce yourself, ask the person for their opinion on a travel destination or an app they recommend. But do so in person — not via email or social — in the real world. The experiment will give you more confidence in how you engage and interact with humans. Write down your results. Any surprises?
Experiments are a way to regularly take small risks and achieve discovery or failure. They are a means to try to find new ways to solve problems or come up with novel solutions. They allow you to quickly push your boundaries around pain and gain, winning, losing, habits and learning. And they afford you the ability to test, observe, and measure outcomes.
S stands for Storytelling: The stories we’ve been told and stories we tell help give shape to the connective tissue in our work and our lives. We are primed for stories and people want to listen to and learn from our stories.
Since we’re all storytellers, some of us naturally better at it than others, it helps to harness the power of storytelling by familiarizing yourself with some basic frameworks or well-known narrative archetypes we all use. Here are a few.
The Quest: Think of the character Arya or Jon Snow from Game of Thrones, who are on a hero’s journey a la Joseph Campbell. They are special beings on a mission. You, or the work you’re doing is special because you’re likely gifted, skilled, knowledgeable, and talented in a one or more disciplines. You’re driven to make something of yourself, and thus you’re likely a hero with something unique to share, create, or express. If so, this is your framework. Tell your story like a hero.
Rags to Riches: Universally appealing, when the ordinary person accomplishes the extraordinary. Take the real-life Sara Blakely, who took a good idea, worked hard and found fortuitous luck, timing and an army of believers and became incredibly successful. Or think about the lead characters in Rocky or Annie as examples. This is the framework for the everyman or everywoman, or the product that was somehow good enough to rise above the obstacles and stand out from the rest.
Stranger in a Strange Land: This is where a person arrives in a “new land” or a new challenge emerges and our old ways of thinking and doing are no longer relevant. We face the struggle of mastering something new or foreign and then adapting. Think Planet of the Apes. This might be you taking on a new product design or service that’s totally unfamiliar or even a new client who presents communication challenges you must overcome.
Then there’s the Revenge story, think The Godfather. And of course, the Love story, think Romeo and Juliet. These are among the most common archetypes or frameworks for storytelling.
Focus on finding the storytelling mode or framework that works for you or maps to your professional journey and specific context. Practice through crafting your stories by writing them and sharing them aloud with friends.
Nothing beats a good, memorable story that sticks in people's’ minds. Stories help people remember us. Stories help us inspire our collaborators and coworkers, motivate our clients and our bosses. They can and often do land us a new job, secure a business opportunity or close a sale. Stories unite hearts and minds around our mission. They’re essential to our success and building the professional future we want.
P stands for Persuasion: Persuasion or rhetoric is about influence. Your ability to become more influential of others, to sway and to nudge people in a direction you desire will massively impact your future.
You want your message to be heard loud and clear, whether it’s a pitch to a client or a sales call to a new customer or an update to your angel investors.
You want your language to be impactful and most importantly, to be received in a way that moves people toward your goal. Think about what a little more influence can do for you.
Maybe it’s to get a group of people to support your new product design. Or convince your peers to work collaboratively with you on an ambitious new public art installation. Or your client to pay you more for your next project. Or your business partner to say yes to a bigger budget.
To become better at persuading others requires you to pitch more often. Frequency is the key. It’s not necessarily how perfectly you pitch that matters; it’s more about how often you pitch and how many opportunities you have to persuade others. One fail is not make or break. Many pitches are better than few.
Yes, you of course need to become more self-aware of your communication choices. Start by focusing on your body language and tone of voice, as 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. Refine your language and wording — written and verbal. Practice by observing the masters of persuasion in your life — the clients or leaders you work with, the influencers you follow, the successful mentors you learn from... and note what makes them more credible and convincing in their delivery of messages. Practice pitching as often as possible. The more you do it, the more confident you will become. It might mean minding your tone of voice when you order from a menu at a restaurant. Or specifically emphasizing select words, your logic, and the feeling applied when you present an offer to a client or negotiate fees on your next project.
OK, there you have it. This is hard work, but practicing these simple tips regularly will pay dividends — and you’ll be well on your way to realizing the “future you”.
I look forward to hearing about your progress, and invite you to attend an amazing free learning event called OwnYourFutureSummit designed to help empower you to take ownership of you 2.0 and optimize your exciting path ahead.
Jonas Koffler is host & creator of the OwnYourFutureSummit.com and is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestselling coauthor of HUSTLE: The Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning, and Momentum, now translated in 10 languages. As a consultant, he advises startups like Spera.io, and brings expertise in the arenas of creativity, human potential, growth and wellbeing. He has been featured in outlets like The New York Times, FastCompany, Fortune, Cheddar, Success, Self and Inc. He’s on a mission to help more people discover what moves them toward more freedom and fulfillment in their work and lives.