Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.
Four years ago I wrote a story that blew up a little around the Internet. It was titled: Advice from 30 year old me to 20 year old me.
I ended that article with a quote which I coined that summed up my advice from me to myself:
Plan in decades. Think in years. Work in months. Live in days.
That was the most highlighted and commented on sentence in the entire article. People have copied it, claimed it as their own (you sneaky sneakers), put it on t-shirts, posters, pillows, bedspreads and even mugs.
After four years I have had time to reflect on these words that struck so many people as important and decided that I should explain a bit more.
Plan in Decades
The older I get the more I realise how much time I have.
When I realised that I had decades and decades in front of me, I understood that I needed to plan more seriously for being alive for perhaps another 6 decades of living.
Saving became immediately relevant to me and compound interest started to play a big part in my thinking about money. For example, I could buy a new pair of sunglasses today that I don’t really need, or I could save the $50 and watch compound interest do its thing if invested properly.
Every dollar I save contributes towards an earlier retirement.
Fulfilling frivolous and immediate desires became less and less important to me when looking ahead at the next 50 years.
I also began to understand that my health needed to be a focus as a matter of urgency. Being healthy cannot wait. You can’t plan to be healthy in 20 years if you don’t start being healthy today. That applies to mental and physical health.
I do not fear death. I do fear being incapacitated in my old age.
Business and Work
It takes at least five good years of work to figure out if a startup is going to be something real and worth sticking with. If you want to retire at the age of 60 and you are 30 years old now then you have six businesses in you before you call it quits. If one of those businesses works out and you stay in it for ten years then you can start 4 businesses before you want to retire.
Four businesses. Single digits. That’s it.
You only have four chances to choose the right thing to build to make you happy and earn enough money to retire. Four. Choose wisely, think carefully and be vicious with your focus.
I also started thinking about people I know who were “stuck” in shitty jobs that they hated because they were earning a decent salary. I became very sad for these people. Planning in decades means that you have enough time today to leave that shitty job, find something new and be even slightly happier. If you want to learn a new skill and you take ten years to learn that skill you still have at least another five decades to work with that skill.
Take the time to learn something new.
Get the fuck out of that job you hate.
Think in Years
It’s extremely hard to think in decades. It’s mentally very difficult to think about what the world, your relationships, your life, your business will be in ten, twenty or thirty years from now. Humans just aren’t wired that way. We think in much shorter stints.
However, it is completely possible to think about the next 12 months, 24 months or 3 years and imagine that you could save enough money to go on a dream vacation or move to a new city or country.
Thinking in years while planning in decades allows you to plan for big moves every decade or so and think about how to action them every year or two.
Short term goals (yes, 1–3 years is short term) are lofty but attainable and you should absolutely have them. I’m shocked at how few people have personal goals laid out.
Do you want to be married and have kids? Are you with someone who makes you unhappy and you’d like to leave them? Do you want to get fit and healthy? Pay off your house? Sell your car? Get out of debt?
Think about these things and pick some that are the most pressing. If you don’t know which are the most pressing then perhaps start there and think about what you want your life to look like in three years. Then plan out the things that you absolutely have to do to get to that three-year goal.
Don’t just meander through the next 3 years aimlessly, you’ll be stunned how quickly you turn 35 and then 50 and then 75. Three years becomes thirty in an instant.
Business and Work
Anyone can do just about anything for one year. When I hire people to work with me I always ask them to give me at least one year before they make any decisions to leave or stay. I believe it takes at least 3 months to learn your work, another 3 months to become proficient at your work and a remaining 6 months to figure out how to do your work properly with the people around you and the business goals.
Quitting sucks, doing it within one year of starting something is a tough call to make but honestly, if you’re thinking in years it can be difficult to think about staying in a difficult work environment for longer than you absolutely have to.
If you’re unhappy then speak up and attempt to resolve things. If you’re happy then think about how you can maximize the experience over the next 2 years and really go all in.
If you’re thinking in years then you’ll likely begin to understand that your plan for the decade is informed mostly by the things you set out to do and then achieve the years that make up that decade.
It’s November 2019 as I write this. It’s less than 60 days until the end of this decade. As you read those words, how do you feel about the last ten? Ten years are up. What have you achieved?
Work in Months
I find it impossible to work effectively on something for one day of work. The best work I’ve ever done happens when I have set a goal for the year and every month I work towards that bigger annual goal. It’s important to me that the annual goal ties closely into the plan for the decade or the next two decades.
Each month I reevaluate and iterate on the annual goal and decade plans. How has the world changed this month? How have I? What has happened that I can retroactively learn from between January and July?
I find that thinking about my work in days becomes extremely complicated and overwhelming. What do you start working on today if you want to be financially free in 20 years? I don’t know. Maybe you can resist that coffee and save $2 every day? Sure. In that scenario, you are working on your plan to save money by living a frugal life every day.
Working every month towards a bigger, deeper goal makes more sense to me.
Live in Days
I am an existential nihilist. I believe that each human creates their own meaning from a life that we did not choose to be born into.
This gives me a personal sense of freedom that if we are barred from knowing the grand “why” regarding the existence of life then it is ours to define. This gives me agency. Each day the meaning of my existence is mine to decide. I absolutely love this feeling but it is a dangerous one because it gives you control of your own life. There are no scapegoats, there are no outs and there is no blame to place. One of my favourite statements comes from Jim Carrey, he said: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” This kind of change and decision happen today, not tomorrow, not in a year and not the next decade. Start making decisions today and start making plans in the coming months.
Today is the most valuable day that I will have and that’s a fucking scary thought if you’re unhappy or feeling trapped. But here’s the thing; if you’re living in your days and you hate them, the only person you can possibly blame is yourself because you have free will and agency over your life. You can choose different thoughts, you can react in different ways and you can approach life in an altered state from the one you are in right now.
A good friend of mine recently said to me: Different inputs lead to different outputs. If you change the things you read and listen to today, if you completely flip the script that you have been reading for the past ten years then you have a chance at a different day tomorrow. Different inputs lead to different outputs.
Elon Musk recently suggested that he’d be surprised if we weren’t in a simulation and to be honest, I’d be shocked if this was the one true reality. Seriously, Donald Trump is president.
So for a second let’s believe that today is the most important day and that you are not working towards an afterlife of some kind. Then let's throw in the simulation theory. Combining the two; I live in a simulation and anything is possible so today may just be the day that everything changes.
Live in the days. Don’t toss them away like tomorrow is an expected response to turning the lights off at night. It is not.