What Studio Ghibli’s “Whisper of the Heart” Can Teach Us About Predicting the Future

In 1995, Studio Ghibli released an animated film titled Whisper of the Heart. I’ve seen it before, but rewatched it this evening, this time with a different perspective.

The movie is set in 1994, and features as its main character a 14-year-old girl, named Shizuku, that dreams of being a writer. Her friends and classmates are convinced that she’s got the talent, but Shizuku’s not so sure, and is working feverishly to write her first full-length story as a way of proving to herself that she’s on the right path.

In 1994, I was a 14-year-old boy that dreamed of being a writer. My friends and classmates were convinced that I had the talent, but I wasn’t so sure, and– well, you get the idea. At 14, I was so in love with books and the means of their publication that I imagined a future twenty years hence in which I worked in the upper echelon of some notable publishing house.

It is now 2014. Twenty years have passed. Print is long dead, and in its wake, several new forms of entertainment have taken hold in popular culture. My friends who majored in English are struggling to find work. I myself write nothing professionally– unless you count code… and email, I suppose. The cynical conclusion to draw would be that my 14-year-old self couldn’t have predicted his way out of a paper bag, that the Shizukus of the world should choose some other career path. I wouldn’t fault anyone for coming to that same conclusion, but I don’t think I’d agree with it.

My dream back then was to become a creator and publisher of beautiful content that would spark people’s imaginations. When I was young, books, magazines, and newspapers were the conduits of that content. Today, the conduits have changed, but the content has not. Drawings are still drawn, words are still written, songs are still sung, and consumers are still consuming them all. Their window into that content is no longer a newspaper or a magazine, but people are just as willing as ever to invest their time into consuming written content. If you’re reading this on your phone while waiting for something, you know exactly what I mean.

The Shizukus of today are still inspired by stories. They still dream of creating their own and sharing them with the world. And if we’ve learned anything in the past twenty years, it’s that people will still want those stories in the future– perhaps in a different form than we imagine today, but with no less fervor. I’d like to think the same is true for any other career path: If you understand the essence of what you love about a particular profession and you’re willing to adapt over time, then it’s not important to predict where you’ll be in twenty years; you can still achieve, and maintain, some level of success.