This study set out to explore the perceptions of young people from two deprived former mining communities in South Wales about their present and future selves. An opportunity sample of 11 teenagers was asked to describe a normal and an ideal day in their lives. Interview transcripts were submitted to a theory-led analysis to gauge the components of young people's selves and their hopes and fears of the future. Findings indicated diversity in the young people's future selves. While some young people were able to construct positive future selves despite adversity, others perceived no resources for a positive future, particularly if they shouldered heavy caring responsibilities, or suffered a lack of respect and recognition. Findings demonstrate powerfully that general protective or risk factors do not simply determine young people's perceived developmental paths, but rather that factors from both micro- and macro-systems work in unique combination for each individual in creating upward – or downward – developmental trajectories. Implications for practice and further research are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.