Reconciling Who You Are With Who You Thought You’d Be

Debbie Reslock

By Debbie Reslock | Dec 26th, 2017

Are you the same person now that you were when you were younger? While in your 20s and 30s, could you envision the person you would become? Is that even possible?

Over the years even professionals who study us haven’t always been in agreement. But research has revealed a couple of surprises.

  1. Personality traits between our younger and older selves may vary greatly.
  2. While we can see changes in ourselves when we look back, we often illogically assume there won’t be any in the future.

Our personality traits are adaptable

According to the results from one of the longest-running personality studies to date, research conducted at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom found that our personalities aren’t set in stone.

After first assessing six character traits in a group of 14 year-olds back in 1947, they compared those results with the same group they caught up with over 60 years later. At an average age of 77, the same characteristics were measured and also included the evaluations from a close friend or family member of each.

The personality traits they looked at were:

While past research had often found that our personalities remained fairly stable over the years, that isn’t necessarily true. Even though there may only be incremental changes from year to year as we age, when the traits of the older person were compared with their younger self, the difference was striking. In fact, it was described as almost resembling two distinct people instead of the same individual.


This outcome may have surprised some researchers but when I look back at who I was at 14, I not only can see a big change but also breathe a huge sigh of relief. A lot can happen to us between then and now. Mostly life.

Considering the six traits, I’d like to think we’ve all improved, especially from a few of those hard-knock lessons we learned along the way.

Who we were may not match up with who we are now

1. Self-confidence

It makes sense that we become more sure of ourselves as we get older because we have more experiences that reveal our strength. The funny thing about self-confidence is that it’s not based on our actual abilities but our perceived beliefs about our abilities. So maybe we also got better at our perceptions.

2. Conscientiousness

We’ve had more groundwork on being reliable, not skirting around the rules, self-regulating our own impulses and even understanding that delaying gratification is a good thing. Age not only gives us opportunities to practice conscientiousness but also to suffer the consequences of those who don’t.

3. Perseverance

Over the years, we have a front row seat to just how difficult life can be. We have more experience in sticking it out and we discover there’s truth in the saying that most things worthwhile don’t come easy. We gain a better understanding of knowing when not to give up. Of course, there’s also something to be said for knowing when we actually should.


4. Desire to excel

The definition of success can be different for everyone but we recognize that setting goals makes it much more likely that we’ll achieve them. We’re better problem solvers and understand the capabilities we possess that will most likely match up with our desired outcomes. Or we know enough to revise the desired outcome.

5. Originality

With increased self-confidence, why would we choose to be a cheap reproduction? We appreciate our uniqueness and we’ve also developed the skills to understand and reach our aspirations. We’ve finally gained perspective on becoming the person we were meant to be.

6. Stability of moods

This one seems almost automatic when I consider what could possibly be a moodier specimen than a 14-year-old girl? For most of us, those unpredictable swings leveled out over the years. But it also helped that we stopped seeing life as an emotional cliffhanger and made more of an effort to minimize the drama.

We’re better at looking back instead of looking forward

There’s been other research refuting past beliefs that our personalities were inflexible, but one interesting find centered on the accuracy with which we see ourselves. Apparently, over the years we’re on target about the changes we’ve made when we look back, but at the same time, we adopt the attitude that there won’t be any changes in the future.

It’s really not news that human beings aren’t always logical. But in a paper published in Science Magazine as reported in the New York Times, they believe this lack of foresight is our tendency to see where we are as somewhat of a watershed moment, that we’re finally becoming who we’ll be. Or what was also referred to as overestimating our own wonderfulness.


For example, the average 20-year-old predicted less change would occur in the next 10 years than the average 30-year-old reported had actually happened. But why do we do this? They did note that it might make us feel good to think we’ve finished evolving. Maybe less so than thinking we have more work ahead of us.

Conversations with our future selves

I have to agree that when I look back on my younger self, I too recognize the leaps I’ve made, yet honestly don’t foresee much change in my future. Like those studied, I guess I also assumed that this was how I am now and will pretty much stay.

I’m not sure why either. It’s not that I think there’s no room for improvement. Maybe the thought of more change is exhausting. Or maybe as we get older, it seems like there just isn’t as much left to change with.

But one thing I know for sure. Like many baby boomers, I like who I am today more than who I was back then. What change is coming in the future remains unknown and at present, beyond my imagination. But in 10 more years when I’m looking back, I wonder who I’ll see.

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock writes about and for the baby boomer and 55+ market, including the amazing journey of aging itself. Her blog, The Third Act, can be found at


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