Ah to be young again. It wasn’t that long ago that I could be still counted amongst the ranks of teenagers, fresh out of college and blasting my way onto the university scene with all the subtly of a drag car in a library. Back then I was still young enough to believe I knew everything and was able to predict my direction in life with the utmost certainty. It was settled, I’d get my degree, land a secure job and fight my way all the way to the top and become a CEO of some mega corp. At the same time I made an informal bet with a good friend of mine that I’d be a millionaire by 30, building on the idea that I’d leverage my savings and possible future home purchases to reach that lofty goal. Those years were probably the most liberating of my life and knowing exactly where I was going was something that I wore proudly.
6 years on however, I don’t think my teenage self and I would get along very well 😉
Back then I was all about knowing your direction to the umpteenth degree and following it to the letter and honestly back then it worked pretty well for me. That wasn’t because it was a good plan and I barely deviated from it; more it was because for the first 4 years of my 10 year plan I was stuck in university so there really wasn’t a lot of room for variation save for failing a class (which I didn’t, thankfully). After finishing my degree and managing to land the coveted job at a large multi-national company I was all set to start my ladder climbing but it took less than a year for my spirits to be broken, dreams of project management shattered and my focus changed from that lofty goal of CEO to generating as much income as possible at any moment whatever the cost.
It was then that I scaled back my goals to something I felt was a bit more managable, around 5 years or so. That meant when I was 23 I thought I had everything planned out till I was 28 which again seemed to work quite well. Instead of just career goals though I started to include more of life’s basic pursuits, love and children. It was a scary thought at first, as it is for any man, but soon the thoughts came to warm me with a soothing amount of certainty. Yet again however these carefully laid plans started to get dashed with the reality of life. Our dreams of going overseas right after the wedding were torn down by the staggering amount of work and cash that would be required to achieve it, and my world was turned upside down when I faced the trifecta of losing my job, buying an investment property and trying to help plan a wedding that would be happening in less than 3 months time.
Whilst it all came clear in the end it taught me that even 5 year plans are probably too long and incapable of dealing with the reality of life: the unknowns.
So right now you’ll rarely ever hear me talk about plans that are longer than a year, just because everything can change so fast that anything longer than that has a good chance of being completely scrapped. Additionally the lofty goals I set myself when I was 19 seemed so complex that the time frames I gave them were in the order of decades, a classic example of Parkinson’s Law (although I’d hesitate to call it a law). Now when my planning only stretches out so far I’m forced to work within the bounds of shorter time frames and things start to look that much more achievable. Sure I’m still working on unkowns but the beauty of it is that they won’t remain that way for decades. The only thing worse than trying something and failing is not trying it at all.
It all comes back to my core belief that setting goals or dreams that are unachievable are the root cause of people giving up on them. I whole heartedly encourage everyone to dream of better things but if you really, truly want to realise them you have to break them down into achievable chunks. Then you know that every step you take is towards that final prize, the dream that you once held up on a pedestal finally becomes a reality. It’s after one of your dreams comes true that you start to look at the others more seriously.
Maybe I’m channeling Tony Robbins here but every time I hear someone talk about their dreams my first compulsion is to ask them “What have you done today to achieve them?”. It’s these infinitesimally small steps taken as often as possible towards your goals that will see them become a reality. It’s so easy to put excuse after excuse up to stop you from exerting the smallest amount of effort towards a life more like the one you dreamed of but if you power through and start achieving you’ll find the willpower to continue on.
Achievement is the self fulfilling prophecy to your dreams.