If You Think You’ve Changed, Just Wait

At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.” -Daniel T. Gilbert, Harvard Psychologist

How good are you at predicting who you will become? If you’re like most people you’ll underestimate how much change awaits you. This conclusion was born out in a research paper published in Science and covered in a recent New York Times piece, titled, “Why You Won’t Be the Person You Expect to Be.”


Researchers measured the personalities, values, and preferences of more than 19,000 people who ranged in age from 18 to 68 and asked them to report how much they had changed in the past decade and/or to predict how much they would change in the next decade. Young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future. People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives. This “end of history illusion” had practical consequences, leading people to overpay for future opportunities to indulge their current preferences.


Intrigued, I pondered these ideas further. How different am I today than 10 years ago? Very. Ten years ago I was 39 and obsessed with conceiving a child. Not only was I incapable of imagining my future self as a “non-mom,” I didn’t want to even try. In facing that future, I would have to contemplate the unthinkable — and who among us is eager to confront a construct doesn’t fit our present day mind set?

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In an interview, the researchers explained, “when asked to predict what their personalities and tastes would be like in 10 years, people of all ages consistently played down the potential changes ahead.” Furthermore, they added, “realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”

I occasionally drop by online forums and various blogs centered on overcoming infertility, those actively trying to conceive (TTC), and I feel like a visitor from another planet. Of course, that’s because I am.

I am no longer of that world. I am a survivor of infertility. In the present-day online communities, words bleed off the page with heart-wrenching pain, bitterness, anger and sadness. I summon the me of the past and she knows the state of betrayal the women living the TTC days describe. They are unwilling to openly acknowledge that treatment might not work, with statements like, “if you haven’t yet conceived…”

I ache for them, but I also know (as the researchers have proven) that their view of themselves and what they are experiencing will inevitably lead to change. Some will go on to become mothers, others will not. Much as I want to tell them that their future selves will reflect wisdom and strength as a result of what they are experiencing, I know their present-day selves aren’t yet ready to hear me.

That’s also why my memoir, which captured 10+ years of raw emotional churn — a change in process — creates a conundrum ten years later. Some readers who discover Silent Sorority today come away with a skewed perspective. They are meeting the me of the past, not the me of today, or the me of the future. When I stumble across those discussing the me of the past I want to tell them how I’ve changed. I’m not frozen in time. I want to invite them to travel into the future to a place they likely cannot imagine today (one I was still in the midst of creating) — a future without searing grief, a state of peace, and an embrace of the change still awaiting me (us).

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In that vein, I wholeheartedly agree with sentiments included in this NYT comment:

It is only in retrospect that I can appreciate how strong an individual I became … We truly are the sum of all fears and challenges and while we don’t necessarily see the changes as they are happening, the courage and persistence to accept them is what gets us through the hard times. I’m curious to see what is in store for me next. Hopefully I can look back ten years from now and see how far I have come – again.

The researchers caution that “predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past.” True, but just think how much more complete, how much more complex, how much more evolved we’ll be.

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9 thoughts on “If You Think You’ve Changed, Just Wait

  1. dear Pamela,
    great article, as always!
    It made me realize that I also believed that I just reached the peak of my personal evolution and that I wouldn’t change much in the future.

    I have a vision of me – when I am old and grey – I want to be wise, kind and in peace with the world. I hope I will be able to say: “This is not the life I planned for myself, but no other life I would love to have more.”

    Yes, I am also a survivor of infertility.

    Have a beautiful year!
    And – I am looking forward to May :)

  2. Thanks for highlighting this fascinating research! I must admit that I fall into this category: “People regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives.”

    It’s so abstract to look to the future for who I will become. And it’s concrete to look back at who I was.

    Like you, the me of 10 years ago is very different than the me of today. Like you, my writing during my IF years (Drama 2B Mama) shows a very different iteration of me. I can only wonder what the me of 2023 will be like.

    Heavy thinking for a Sunday afternoon!

    Thanks for joining in Perfect Moment Monday.

  3. Interesting post. I look back at the me of 20 years ago, and the me 10 years later when I was also obsessed with trying to conceive/carry to term, and I wouldn’t have recognised myself. (Let’s face it – I didn’t recognise myself when I was in the midst of ttc/loss fever.) Fast forward another ten years, and I’m very different yet again. Some of the changes have been positive, some haven’t been, but I’m so much better at accepting them all. I’m a little fearful for the future, seeing the changes in my mother, and in-laws. But hopefully that’s stil 20-30 years in the future. And so for the next ten years or so … I’m hoping the change will be all positive.

  4. I like to think the core me has not changed a lot. I still love many of the same things I loved 20, 30, (gulp) 40 years ago — and I still have many of the same traits.

    But yes, life has a funny way of taking you in directions you never would have dreamed of, and altering your expectations. My life is certainly very different from the picture I had in my head in the past (and not just the mom stuff — I was certain I would wind up living in Winnipeg, near my parents (or perhaps Calgary or Edmonton) & married to a Winnipeg boy — a doctor, of course, haha). I have an idea of what I’d like my future to be like, but the lessons I’ve learned over the past 15 years have taught me that it’s certainly not a given.

    Great post, & great comments above!

  5. How very fascinating – I do look backwards and see how far I’ve come. I can’t see very far forward (I can only speculate based on what I know) – but for some reason, I do see the future looking a lot like the present (and continuing the trend of “today is like this”) Rather than changing (and continuing the trend of “every year for the last couple decades, I’ve changed.) Thought provoking! I’m sharing your post on Twitter @AddisonCooper

  6. Min

    Love!!! :)
    I so agree with you, Pamela! I am a different person now and I am at peace. I never thought I would have gotten to this point—and it has taken a lot to get here…..looking back is sometimes hard. I was such a sad, bitter person! I wish the ” me today” could hug the “me from yesterday” and say everything is going to be alright…
    Thank you—such great insight!

  7. LOVE this post. It makes me smile a lot. :-) One thing that made me really shocked after having lived in Finland for almost 6 years is how much my tastebud has changed. I used to think that I would always loved all the food and spices in Indo, but I found out that when I last visited my hometown in 2011, I felt that they were “too much” for me. I think one big reason is ‘coz I rarely cook authentic Indonesian/Chinese food the way they’re made in Indo anymore due to spice/ingredient limitations.

    So yeah, I’ve changed A LOT in terms of that and you’re absolutely right about the changes in other aspects of our lives, as well. I love it when I can reread my old posts and then realize how far I’ve come/changed – though I can only hope not to grow bitter, but more compassionate. Only time will tell. :-)

  8. Pamela,

    Thank you so much for this article. This last year has been a real step for me moving into the acceptance of a child free life after 10+ years of TTC and dealing with infertility. This article really hit home and that NYT comment was very moving for me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Kristy, for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. Wishing you all the best!

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