Making the most of being from the future

It’s often assumed that a time-traveller would be uniquely placed to profit from their knowledge of events, things that to them were historical but to their new contemporaries would be yet to occur, investing in little-known technologies that were destined for greatness, or remaining aloof from ill-fated fashions. But what about the other qualities one needs to do well? What about character, or luck?

A man sits at a corner table in the company of nothing but his thoughts and a third gin: his downcast eyes are looking beyond the tabletop and his lips twitch as he rehearses the choices that led him to his present position. Arriving in what was to him then history, he found himself more informed than his peers on almost every area of human endeavour: paralysed by the choices available to him, he invested his efforts in a reckless and haphazard manner, investing money in this new technology, travelling to that soon-to-be-pivotal region of the world, advising influential individuals to take advantage of the other recent development. Spreading his resources so broadly prevented him nurturing any one of his enterprises as they deserved, and soon he became aware of his reputation as a dilletante and shyster, a diverting accquaintance with an uncanny knack of guessing how things might fall out, but not one you would wish to have as a partner. Now you see him desparate and confused, at a loss to explain how he has squandered the best possible advantage a man might want in the world.

(It doesn’t end badly for our friend, by the way: he discovers that relinquishing the idea that he has a special advantage allows him to behave in a calmer and more trustworthy way, and by the end of his life he sometimes smiles to think that the distinction he is most proud of is no longer his time-traveller status but his champion carrot cake).

Knowing things that other people don’t yet is all very well, but it wouldn’t do on its own: you’d still need something like character to succeed, and that’s timeless.

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