Picture this: You wake up (perhaps from a minor head injury or a very deep sleep) and forget everything from the past 10 years. In your world, it’s 2004: George W. has won a second term; Martha Stewart has been convicted; Apple just introduced the iPod Mini; and you cried your head off at The Notebook.
This also means that you also believe you’re 10 years younger than you actually are, having (at least for now) borne none of the scars, disappointments or joys of the recent decade. You must now set about collecting clues about who you’ve become.
This is the plot of Liane Moriarty’s popular 2010 novel “What Alice Forgot,” and while it makes for an entertaining read, it’s also a valuable tool for introspection: After all, what would you think of the life you’re living now if you could view it with a cold eye? If you had to figure out who you are now based not on memory, but empirical evidence?
I’ve thought about this long after (spoiler alert) Alice gets her memory back. Reason being that so much of what we’re fed (be it in the self-help, career or otherwise success-oriented literature) tells us to fixate on the future: Set goals, draw up vision boards; picture yourself five, 10, 20 years from now. In other words, keep your eye on the horizon. There’s an optimism to that, and a danger, too — the temptation to assume that things will be better “when,” or simply better then; that all of life is designed to sweep infinitely upward, with more and more to come if we can just manifest it, Secret-style.
Instead of imagining and envisioning what hasn’t happened, look at what has. If you could see your life (your job, your home, the people in it) as a stranger would, what would you think of it — and yourself?
Alice looks with wonder at her lovely home, her swimming pool, her impeccable clothes, her once plump body now lithe and muscular. She’s aghast at her hectic schedule, her foolish friends, the way people treat her — including her daughter, whom she doesn’t know, and the husband she’s in the midst of divorcing, but has no idea why. The clues and the cues reveal that while she is by all accounts beautiful and admirable and organized, she has also become regimented, hard and unforgiving — the very kind of woman she used to loathe.