A friend who is a career military man is retiring soon. He’s still pretty young, so he asked for some advice on what to do next; he sees that I’m pretty successful, and he wants to be successful too, in the next phase of his life.
His question was: how does he figure out what’s really right for him, for what he wants to do next? My reply was fairly detailed.
Sharing My Response
After sending it to my friend, I also sent it to the smaller of my two Mastermind groups, asking for their feedback. Some of their responses: “Wow!”, “INNOVATIVE”, “Thought provoking indeed!”, “LOVED the article, literally devoured the whole thing! (Okay, not quite literally, but you know what I mean.)”, “What a great job Randy has done at capturing and articulating all of this”, and “This is HUGE gift.” I thought I’d share that gift with you, too.
The group gave some great feedback, asking me to expand on some things which might not have been explained adequately, and there were several questions. All of that went into fleshing out the essay, below.
It’s solid career (and life!) advice that will work for anyone.
By the way: the friend who asked about this is the same guy who asked for advice about becoming a writer. My answer to that is in my essay, There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block.
Planning for the Rest of Your Life
Advice on how to figure out where to go from here? You bet: divide your life into every broad category you can think of (career, family life, financial, health & fitness, where you live, and more), and then for each area that you outline, write down:
- The specific beliefs about each area that you have. Group them into negative and positive beliefs.
- View the negative beliefs with a critical eye. Example: “I don’t deserve to make a lot of money.” Why not? Can you eliminate each negative belief, and replace it with a positive one? (Such as, “If I work hard and bring value to others, you bet I deserve to make a lot of money!”) With luck, you’ll eliminate all of the negative beliefs, replacing them with positive ones. If not, get help in doing so — these negative beliefs are holding you back, and will continue to do so until you change them. You really have to believe in what you want to do.
- What is your vision for the ideal lifestyle in that area in 5 years? In 10?
- What are your reasons for wanting this vision to come true? Spend time to create good ones. “I want a million dollars so I can jet around the world” is pretty weak. “I want lots of money so I can fund a foundation to feed hungry children in my own community” is a powerful reason, but obviously it needs to resonate strongly for you — only you know what your reasons are, but make them hit you in the gut (or the heart) so they matter.
- Then, write down the steps you need to take to get each of these goals accomplished — an action plan, including:
- What you would need to do to reach each goal.
- Education/training? Be specific. Write it down.
- To get other things done first? Write them down.
- To have more time by getting rid of other useless, valueless activities? Write them down.
- What you would need to do to reach each goal.
This is a Days-Long Process
Repeat for every area of your life, every big goal in that area. It is imperative that you write it all down in one place, like in a binder or in a file on your computer (that you back up regularly so you never lose it).
Illustrate this document lavishly with photos you find online or cut out of magazines that you identify with, that inspire you. For the example above, you might find a photo of a malnourished kid from your area. If you looked at that photo every day, it would drive you to work toward helping kids like that. If it’s a fitness goal, a photo of someone with a body like you want might be a good illustration for that section. “I want to look like that. Will eating a third donut help me get there?”
The illustrations don’t literally have to be photos. Want to be a famous author, for instance? Create a headline, like Local Man’s Latest Novel Hits #1 on New York Times Best Seller List or something. Huge fame doesn’t appeal much to me, but if that drives you, then create visuals that support your vision, and put them into your notebook or file.
The Order Doesn’t Matter
If you’re more “visual” than word-orientated, then start with the photos. What do you want your job to “look like.” What do you want your house to look like? What do you want to look like. Such illustrations will help you get your vision clear, and then you can start writing things down around the illustrations.
But it all does have to be written down. Just trying to remember it all won’t make it.
Remembering six months from now “Oh yeah, I had fitness goals too” means you’ve lost six months of work on that aspect. Let alone getting clear on the steps you need to take to get there. There’s a lot of detail in building a great life that you’ll love and others will envy.
We sure as hell didn’t learn about this stuff in school!
OK, It’s All Written Down. Now What?
Every day, read at least one of your goals, to keep it in the front of your mind. Rotate through your goals so you don’t forget any particular aspect of the life you’ve planned. Use your steps — your action plan — to plan out your life.
Yeah, you have to go to work, take care of family, buy groceries, whatever (live your life!), but I’ll bet you have a lot of wasted time in your week; do you really need to spend six hours watching TV tonight? Start putting action plan steps into your calendar (with an alarm on your smartphone helps!), and do those things instead of the time-wasters.
Constantly Update Your Plan
Every month, set time aside to go through one section of the book/file and update it as needed. Push your goals: “I want to weigh less than 300 lbs” is not pushing it. What’s ideal for you in that area, and what can you realistically achieve in that time span if you push yourself?
Obviously the goal has to be obtainable; if you’re fully grown and 5’7″ then “I want to be six feet tall” is a dumb goal, because you won’t attain it. But “I want to be in such good shape that I can get back into rock climbing next spring” is a more achievable goal, and has a good “why” built in because you know how much fun you used to have doing that before you let your weight soar.
During the review, visit each aspect. Have you really eliminated the negative beliefs? Is your vision clear? Are your goals stretching you — yet still reasonable so that you can achieve them? Do you know clearly what your next step is in your action plan? What parts of this need to be updated? Update those parts!
Lots of time? Do all of this more — and more rapidly tick off your steps to reach your big goal in that area of your life.
Does It Work?
Heck yeah it works! This is exactly how I got the career I wanted — This is True itself.
Back in early 1994, I created a strong vision. Even though I didn’t need funding, I wrote a detailed business plan about my idea. The plan covered how long I’d have to stay at NASA before I figured the new biz would give me enough income to live on so I could quit my Day Job (2 years).
It talked about the publication’s format, how it would have ads, what parts of my background would help me, what I needed to learn to pull it off, the technology involved, how I would write the stories once and sell them again and again (to newspapers as a column; to online readers; published in books), what business models I would not pursue (a printed, mailed newsletter, for example), where revenue would come from, the demographics of the readers, the viral marketing aspect (though I didn’t call it that then, because that phrase wasn’t coined yet): that readers would be encouraged to forward the newsletters to friends to help spread it, and more — even that I would move away from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory so I’d not be tempted to go back as a “consultant” or part-timer; I forced myself to really concentrate on launching a new career after 15 years of preparing for and working in my old one — I created the best environment possible so that my plan went from where I was then, to where I am now.
That kind of detail was hugely important, because as I worked on making this my new career I had to think about those various aspects of the business and ensure they were working — or whether I had to modify the ideas so they would work.
Most recently, that was “Printed books out, Kindle/iBooks in.” And I am making great progress on making that happen, too.
Writing it down made it all concrete. I wrote it on my computer, so I was able to edit as needed, and it was indeed written down so I could remember aspects I probably would forget otherwise. That also made it easy to refer to it frequently to keep the details in mind as I progressed.
And it worked, right down to the timing of my leaving my Day Job, almost exactly two years later.
The Part I Screwed Up
I had a Big Goal in mind — a complete change in direction for my life’s work. I broke it all down into greatly detailed plan, I set myself up for success (getting rid of the biggest potential distraction: the really fun place to work that I had in my old job!), and implemented that plan step by step until I had what I wanted. Fantastic!
But despite that huge success, it never occurred to me to make such detailed plans for every aspect of my life. I had loose goals “in mind,” such as wanting to meet and marry a local girl from Colorado (the “romantic” aspect of my life), and even that I wanted to live on 40 acres on a dirt road in a rural area (the “home” aspect of my life). Check, and check!
But because I didn’t write those down into an actual plan, with the steps I needed to take along the way, both took much longer than they “should” have to be realized.
Other areas never even had a mental plan (e.g., my fitness); they’re important too, and should have been spelled out explicitly. Having strong “whys” makes me want to accomplish them, rather than blow them off. Now that this goal is clear, there’s a reason I’m losing weight at an age where most are gaining!
This Puts You Way Ahead
Only a tiny fraction of the population of the world has anything like this written down. The ones who do? They do tend to be highly successful.
Do you really think that’s a coincidence?
OK, But How Does It Work?
You can call it the “law of attraction” — putting your “energy” out to the “universe” so that it will respond with what you want (which is what I’m told the movie The Secret was about) — but I consider that a “woo woo” belief, and that doesn’t work for me.
Maybe that works for you; if it does, great: that’s all the explanation you need. But you don’t have to look at it that way. I don’t.
Here’s how I look at it, with my “rational mindset”: we humans need to get our desires — our goals, our dreams, our best-case scenarios — clear in our minds, and nothing is better at making them clear than writing them down.
Plus, you can edit your plans if you change your mind, or if you decide your goals are too easy to achieve (or too big to bite off within a reasonable time). Or when you do the “Why” parts, you might find that they’re so thin that you need better ones so that you’re truly motivated to achieve your goals. Or you might find your “beliefs” in that area are holding you back.
If you have a clear vision in mind, with good reasons why you should work toward that vision, and a step-by-step plan for getting there, and they’re aligned with your beliefs, and keep those details constantly in mind (is it becoming clear why you have to write it all down?!), your brain will help you get it done. You’ve “programmed” your brain to Make It So, and you’ve made it clear to yourself why it’s worth the work to get there.
Let’s say, for example, your big career goal is to write The Great Epic Novel. You’ve posted your goal and your strategy on your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning as you start your day.
When you sit down to watch another rerun of the same old TV sitcom, you should ask yourself: is this the way to get to my goal? What would a Great Epic Novelist be doing right now? If that doesn’t motivate you, either your vision or your “whys” aren’t strong enough.
Today’s actual step may not be “Write a Novel” even if that’s your Big Career Goal. Your current step may be “Join the local Writer’s Club” or “Read the book about creating memorable characters” or “Outline the timeline” or even “Write Chapter 5” — one of many steps you’ve written down that get you toward your big goal.
Reasons = Motivation
That’s why, once you get things clear — your vision — you need those really good Reasons I suggested you write down. They will give you motivation to do what you need to do: to execute your strategy for actually getting it done, whatever “it” is you’re concentrating on that week that moves you toward your goal.
Do you need education to reach your big career goal? Clear out time on your calendar by getting rid of mindless activity so you can exercise? Change jobs so you don’t have a two-hour commute? Step by step, check them off so you can see your progress.
But to get there, you have to get going on creating a detailed, written plan, including the whys that will motivate you, and follow it, and chart your progress! That is how things get done, yet most people just slog along, and every year, every decade, they look toward the past and say “Well, I still didn’t get it” — rich, famous, whatever your dream is. Or, those hungry kids still aren’t being fed.
Many Steps Make a Journey
Seems like a big project, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, it is. Life is hard, and achieving big dreams takes work. This is how you break that work down, get clear on what your life’s goal is, and start taking steps to reach that goal.
What if you’re already 60 years old? Well, you have 20-30 years, which is a lot of time: you can still reach some big goals. But if you’re only 20? Ah, then you should be able to accomplish huge goals if you simply get started!
Or maybe you’re like my friend, somewhere toward the middle of his life. He has already accomplished big, deeply satisfying goals, and he’s ready for a new challenge. Getting started on making those goals clear and planning how to accomplish them now — before his military retirement — means he can hit the ground running when he gets out of the military. (I’ll bet that appeals to him! I haven’t heard back from him yet: he’s deployed in Afghanistan, and is pretty busy right now. But I’ll bet when he gets some downtime, he’ll jump in with both feet. The military does help people learn the value of long-term goals!)
“I Don’t Think I Can Do This.”
Well, I do! If you’re smart enough to read this and understand it, you’re smart enough to do it, because it’s not all that hard, especially compared to hitting your head against the wall year after year, not getting what you want.
Probably like me, you never even thought about doing this, even if you are in business and wrote a detailed business plan. As one of the reviewers of the first draft (my small Mastermind group) said when another member found this a bit daunting, “A lot of things are simpler than you imagine they would be.”
It does take time to think deeply about this stuff, and to get it clear enough to write down. If you can’t get it written down clearly, then you’re almost certainly not clear enough in your own mind as to what you want, let alone how to get it.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
—attributed to Lewis Carroll
You’ve Already Taken the First Step
Remember, This is True is about thinking! And this is some of the most important thinking you can do. You have one lifetime to leave your mark on this planet — on humanity. Time’s ticking by. Don’t wait a decade and then look back and say “Well, I didn’t get what I wanted …again.”
No one’s going to hand it to you. You have to get clear on what you want, why, and how to get there — and then get started executing your plan. But you can’t do that until you have a plan, and this page shows you how to get started on it. Will you? The rest of your life starts right now. Print this out, sleep on it, and read this whole page again this coming weekend.
But I Have ADD/ADHD! But I Don’t Know My Purpose In Life!
I have ADD myself, but “attention deficit” has a flip side, doesn’t it? The ability to intensely focus on something you truly want to do. What’s more important — giving you that “want” — than getting clear on what you want out of life so that you can actually achieve it? Yeah, you want to look at that butterfly now. I get that. OK, it’s gone. Back to figuring out your life? Yes!
I have a strong purpose in my life: I want to bring thinking back to public discourse — and to education — and therefore to life. That’s what has driven me to do This is True every week for 18 years now, and makes my work so meaningful to me.
Moving Forward No Matter What
What if you don’t know your purpose in life? How, then, can you plan for it?
It’s a great question! Here’s the answer: You can still get started. Maybe the section of your plan on “Life’s Purpose” will be sparse at first, but start writing down things. What are your main interests? What are your passions? Is it feeding the hungry? Entertaining people? Making them think? Educating children? Promoting literacy so people can learn? What?
Write … them … down! Getting something done is better than getting nothing done. Then come back later and see if you can expand those ideas. Still stuck? Work on other sections — your career beliefs/vision/plans, your health and fitness beliefs/vision/plans, your relationship (spouse, family, friends) beliefs/vision/plans — whatever — and get started. Do something, or you’ll end up staying on your same path, not knowing where you’re going.
But You Really Do Have to Do It
If a overriding Big Goal is daunting, write down all the small steps from where you are now to where you want to be, and get to work on accomplishing those small tasks. And when all those small tasks are done, poof! You’ve completed your big goal!
The key is to not be paralyzed by the large goal, but rather to chip away daily at the small tasks that lead toward that big goal.
The clock is ticking. You don’t get another life, you get one. Stop wasting time.
Again, the best way to get started is to get started! If this looks like too big of a job, choose one area that’s most important to you (e.g., your health, your career), and work on the steps I outlined above just in that area. When you find that’s helpful, expand it to another area, then another.
What I’ve outlined above really is enough to do a first draft — and it’s far more than what 99 percent of the world population does to get the most out of the one life they’ve been given.
I got a long way just writing down the plans and goals for This is True. You can do this too. Get started. And do me a favor? If you find this was helpful to you, let me know! Either in the comments, or by email. Thanks.
Now: print this out so you can read it again tomorrow. There is a lot to absorb here. And you don’t want to remember this a year from now and say to yourself, “Well, I still didn’t get it….”
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