Who Will You be in Twenty Years?

Once we reach adulthood, most of us believe we possess a permanent essence. We are not identical to others but unique and different, expecting to remain much as we are. 

Holding this belief, we plan for the future, assuming our happiness will depend on whether we achieve our twenty-something goals.

Ah, but goals change, at least for many. Moreover, the exact form of our transformations can’t be predicted. Here is a simple example:

As a boy, I loved vanilla ice cream, chocolate less, strawberry never.


In middle age, I discovered I fancied the strawberry flavor, like my father, and now, as my oldest grandson does.

My first awareness of such possible alterations began in 1971 when I listened to a radio broadcast of the Mahler Symphony #2 given the year before at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. Leonard Bernstein (LB) conducted.

The 80-minute Resurrection Symphony (as it is called) moved me to make myself a promise. If I ever had enough money to take a trip to wherever LB performed it again, I’d do so.

Time passed. I completed school, and my professional life began. Bernstein continued his own.

After more than 15 years, I read the announcement I’d been waiting for. The New York Philharmonic would offer the music under Lenny’s baton in April 1987. I made the trip.

You could say I expected too much. Perhaps. But veteran music lovers recognize no two performances are identical, even within the same few days. The rendition was fine, but the rocket to the celestial realm failed to arrive.


The simple answer was this: Lenny and I were more than a decade older. Before the downbeat, I’d attended a few live presentations of the same work, caught many recordings of the composition, and lived a fistful of years.

That slice of my existence contained numerous shake-ups, shake-offs, amendments, revisions, complications, joys of the heart, and tweaks of all kinds. Tempests arrived and departed, fears were faced and faded, and triumphs and defeats lived in and through.

I imagine the conductor would have said something similar, though he came in an older body, one he was wearing out.

In its entire nature, the aging process can’t be anticipated. We cannot predict who we will become, no matter what we believe.

We understand mortality not at all unless a near-death experience has convincingly threatened us. Our knowledge of personal death is otherwise abstract, neither gripping nor complete.

Just so, imagining the fullness of the career I enjoyed was unknown, nor how my children and patients would transform me.

Does your crystal ball foresee what doors will open to you, what people you will encounter, the accidents ahead, or the betrayals of your body by your body? 

Who can predict the lucky breaks, world events to be written in history books, the kind and unkind people around the corner, or the impact of a thousand other things?

Neither your brain nor your physical makeup is a stationary entity. 

According to the April 1, 2021 issue of Scientific American*, “In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion (cells) will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.” The automated process will reinvent you to some degree regardless of your best efforts in exercise and diet.

Trust me, you will not be the same and shouldn’t be the same, given the tuition-free experience of a lifetime.

Were you to meet your older self on the street, you might perceive the resemblance but not the full character of the fellow.

I’d venture that most of us believe the wisdom of the old is the gift of self-awareness and experience rather than changes to the operation of our brain and body. If the common man is correct, how do we account for the extraordinary intensity of emotion we observe in an active child?

He did not learn this.

In our teens, we continue to possess a similar intensity, perhaps more on occasion. Still, it begins to decline so that many unwise, unthinking, non-self-reflective souls often appear sedate and thoughtful before their end.

Rather than supposing such a one grew from increasing mastery and reconsideration of his mistakes, I’d venture his body often took the lead in the mellowness and acceptance the years delivered.

In Plato’s Republic, the author recalls a conversation between Socrates and an aged friend:

Socrates: There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travelers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to inquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult.

And this is a question I should like to ask of you who have arrived at that time which the poets call the ‘threshold of old age’: Is life harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it?

Cephalus: I will tell you, Socrates, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says, and at our meetings the complaint of my acquaintances commonly is, ‘I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away; there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life.’

Some complain of the slights put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly how many evils their old age is the cause.

But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really at fault. For if old age were the cause, I too, being old, and every other old man would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known.

How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles. He was asked, ‘How does love suit with age, Sophocles? Are you still the man you were?’ He replied, ‘Peace! Most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master.

Four points should be emphasized:

  1. Socrates was about 71 at the time of his death.
  2. Years before, he could not have forecast that he would be sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging in them the thoughtful questioning he practiced.
  3. A reduction in sex drive is standard in aged men, many of whom are at relative peace with it. No man in his prime would find the decline or the acceptance imaginable. Of those who maintain an active sex life in old age, few say the experience is as mindblowing as during their sexual heyday.
  4. There is much to enjoy for curious seniors who maintain adequate but imperfect health, good luck, and enough money to meet their needs without significant concern. Other advantages include a sense of calm, freedom from many worries and responsibilities, self-acceptance, and gratitude for what remains. Of course, the present is not identical to their past life. Much of their joy comes from friendship, children, and grandchildren, not heroic achievements.

Shakespeare, among others, noted we are “time’s fool,” meaning that time plays with us as ancient kings did with their court jesters (also called fools), kept nearby to entertain the monarch.

We do not know how much time we have and who we will be as we progress through whatever allotment comes our way. Nor is the breathtaking acceleration of the day’s pace conceivable until we find each 24 hours speeding ahead.

Best to fulfill your hopes early, especially if their fulfillment requires the energy, enthusiasm, and intensity a young body was made for.

Bucket lists come without guarantees. If it is unlikely that you can grasp the experience of mid-life and old age ahead of time, the list may need unexpected revision.

Those much older folks look strange, don’t they?

You see, I am time’s fool, as well.

I laugh more than ever in playing my part.

If “all the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare said, I have been well cast.


*The authors of the Scientific American article are Mark Fischetti and Jen Christiansen. 

All of the images above are sourced from Wikiart.org/ In order from the top, they are Futuristic Woman, 1911, by David Burliuk, Flight to the Future by Wojciech Siudmak, Teiresias Foretells the Future of Odysseus by Henry Fuseli, ca. 1800, and Future, 1943, by Agnes Lawrence Pelton.

23 thoughts on “Who Will You be in Twenty Years?

  1. What a fascinating post about our changing selves. I really like your story about going to see Leonard Bernstein again and also this sentence, “Trust me, you will not be the same and shouldn’t be the same, given the tuition-free experience of a lifetime.”

    I find it interesting to think about what I might be like when my kids leave the house, for instance, and then when I think I’m going to go back to what I did in my 30’s and 40’s before I had them, I’m sobered to realize that I’ll probably be 68. At that point, I just turn off the time machine and enjoy the present because I’m too confused to continue. But I like your advice to fulfill the hopes that require energy early. That makes so much sense to me.

    Thank you for a lovely walk through the fallacies of our thinking, planning, and dreaming! Great post, Dr. Stein!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Wynne. My experience is that the younger a person is, the less likely they will believe anything I’ve written in this post. I’m not sure this is bad because if they fully understood it, the effect might be quite horrifying!! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In 20 years I will be in my early 80’s and my hope is that my health and ability to move around will still be good. I plan on continuing my strength training, tai chi and walking with the goal of maintaining my strength. I also realize that all of my planning could dissipate with bad luck. No one can foresee the future and all we can do is plan, hope and keep our fingers crossed. 🤞🏼

    Liked by 3 people

  3. “The energy”—- how true. I just completed a bucket list trip, a two-week Viking cruise to Central America. I’ve been home three days and have hardly risen from the couch. I’ve learned, or hope I’ve learned, that at age 81, I need to start tempering my various enthusiasms. My body seems to be saying I have to listen better or it will simply flake out on me. Good for younger folks to know!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Interesting question to ponder. Love the Bernstein story. While change can be scary, I’m soothed knowing that I’ll be different, that I may love some of the same things, but that the experience will be different. Seems almost more appealing. We grow, we learn! Great post. Thanks for sharing.


  5. When my Mother passed last March I began to think about these things…. pretty sobering…

    Liked by 4 people

    • Condolences, of course, Laura. The first anniversary might be a tough one, as you know, but you are a brave soul, as your career choices have demonstrated. I imagine your husband will be a strong support. Be well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yet another of your thought-provoking posts, Dr. Stein. I have observed in my own life and from the experiences of others within my sphere that our future is uncertain no matter how many plans who put in place. As you’ve noted, change is a constant: within ourselves, within those around us, and within the society and the wider world in which we live. You’ve said it well in suggesting: “Best to fulfill your hopes early, especially if their fulfillment requires the energy, enthusiasm, and intensity a young body was made for.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you, Rosaliene. From my standpoint, you look at the world more frankly than most. It is a difficult stance, but I’m sure it garners admiration from others who know you. You certainly have mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dr. Stein. I don’t know how I came to develop such a stance. It could well be that my survival depended upon objectively evaluating conditions in the world around me. As to admiration from others, friends and colleagues often remarked that I took things too seriously. A work colleague in Brazil once complained that I was too analytical.


  8. Good morning, Dr. Stein! You know what? I’m finding I need to read your posts a time or two…for absorption and reflection. Truly. Thinking about one’s timeline and the ways in which we use our time is such a pervasive thought for me these days and your post provided comfort and a sense of urgency. Thinking ahead is something I tend to do naturally, but the ‘in 20 years’ question puts the fine point on things. Well, that and this — your quote from Scientific American: “In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion (cells) will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.” I love that. And I’ll use it…I can think of a few dear ones right now who could use the reminder. Make haste. Live and love. Get to it! Thank you so much. 💓


  9. Tamara Kulish from https://tamarakulish.com/

    Thank goodness for change! I’m very happy not to be the same person I was in my teens or even 10 years ago! I remember being a teen and thinking that a sharp sense of humor was the mark of an intelligent person, not realizing at the time how hurtful my sarcastic or “funny” comments were. Now that my 15-year-old granddaughter is going through the same phase and I have been a recipient of the “humor” I see it as possible “payback” for my own actions! LOL! Seriously though, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to change and to grow and not to remain the same for the rest of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your desire for change makes you as well prepared as you can be going forward. If we can transform those alterations that others find “too much,” the future will be embraced. Brava, Tamara!


  11. I once planned for 5 years, and then the pandemic happened. My goals died. I’m not sure I can plan for 20 years. I’m not sure I’ll be alive. If I am, I’m not sure if our USA will survive more insurrections and extremist uprisings, let alone climate change denials.

    My intention is to be alive.

    If I am alive in 20 years, I want to be in a liberal/leftist/blue area with minimal crime rates and minimal natural disasters. I would hope that the people around me care about our climate and do all they can to reduce their carbon footprint. I would then hope that I could heal by then, or at least be in a place safe enough to manage my physiological and psychological symptoms and chronic illnesses.

    I’ll be nearing 70 in 20 years, as I’m in the last years of my 40s now. I would hope to have repaired my legacy by then, and I would hope to contribute to society in some good and memorable ways. I would also hope to have formed a meaningful relationship with my daughter, who was adopted. I would also hope that my mom would have made it to 100 (though I’ve not heard from her in the past 3 weeks, and I fear that she is ill and my estranged family – her caregivers – are refusing to let me know anything). I would also have hoped to make lifelong friends by then, and to have a secure place to live with good healthcare coverage. I would hope to still receive SSDI and Veterans Benefits as my only sources of income, as well as Medicare and VA healthcare coverage as my only sources of healthcare insurance (lest we finally get universal healthcare by then).

    I would hope that peace treaties would be in effect, and that we would better prepare for, and prevent, pandemics and epidemics by then. I would also hope that Ukraine would be a solid country of its own, and that NATO would be strengthened, along with the UN and other global efforts toward world peace and global security.

    But where I’d be is just a small speck amid the masses. I would only hope that people would remember the good, forgive the bad, and consider my heart.


    • Your heart is worth considering, Dragon Fly. Your hopes, especially the ones that are in your hands, are not unreasonable. Taking on that which you control in modest steps may well enhances your life. Happy to hear from you and be well.


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