“You’re not stuck.”
When was the last time you were in school?
Years in review, resolutions, tales of accomplishment and struggle — such is the banality you all are now reading ad nauseam. A new year brings different emotions for different people.
A. Melancholy depression at not having accomplished anything over the past 12 months
B. Hopeful excitement having completed everything you set out to do 12 months ago and looking forward to the next
C. Anxious excitement at not achieving nearly the amount you think is warranted by 365 days of your life
Or D. A drunken stupor to ignore any type of meaningful reflection resulting in the emotions of the aforementioned
I would venture to say most of you fall under C.
In the past 365 days I have escaped a stifling career in a boring field, taught myself to code a number of languages (thanks for the head start, OneMonth), been there for my family at times of need, made significant progress towards a unifying field theory of socioeconomic systems, celebrated moments with dear friends, PR’d in distance running, utilized psychological analysis to successfully sell to people hundreds of miles away, and delved further into yoga and meditation.
But what of your failures?
During that same time I have wasted considerable hours creating prototypes for an abandoned business, had no less than three emotional breakdowns, distracted myself from meaningful progress by pursuing ventures I didn’t care about because they would seem impressive to the commonwealth, spent more money and time on entertainment than learning, neglected a good many relationships, circumvented several uncomfortable but necessary conversations for fear of offending, and am no closer to completing some very personal and hard set goals.
Why do they matter?
Reticence about ones failings does nothing to spur their correction nor inspire the camaraderie rejected but needed by those demanding the world of themselves and the audience of the world.
The notebook in this image contains its namesake. On the front page is a list of goals I wrote when I turned 20, goals which I must accomplish by the time I turn 30. Some have been checked off, others scratched off as the misguided musings of a young man.
When was the last time you were in school?
I am now 25. A summer birthday means I have 4.5 years left to complete that list. There are few things I miss about school. Certainly you can conjure up classes you didn’t enjoy, subjects you were bored by, professors you could outwit. Despite its failings, industrialized education is remarkably arresting. Two terms a year. Four years to graduation.
Our goal is to make post-grad life as close to the college experience as possible.
How old are you? If you’re reading this it’s likely that you’ll have another 8 terms before you die. What must you accomplish in order to move to a category B person? Do you have a list?
Write them down and show them to no one.
There’s innumerable psychological research supporting an unjustified sense of accomplishment when simply voicing goals, whether work has been made towards their completion or not. Write them down. Show them to no one.
A lack of time is a lack of priority. There is no core curriculum here. What do you want to be able to look back on most? That’s #1.
Divide and conquer.
You don’t learn graduate chemistry in a single term. First you take Intro. Then Intermediate. Then Organic. Then Applied. What are your first three goals? What needs to happen in the next six months for them to be able to snowball? This is your coursework.
The first time you read a book it required all of your focus. Now you’re reading this on your smartphone while at your desk.
[glance around to ensure your boss hasn’t seen]
After the first term, look at your report card. How did you do? Have the first three goals gained momentum, by which I mean their production ratio requires less input to output than when you began? Which one has the highest production ratio? Scale back your efforts towards that goal (or bring on a team member to help) and start pursuing #4.
I’m 25 years old and I’ve accomplished barely a third of that list I wrote five years ago. I know what my first three are. One is a goal of intellect, the other of physicality and health, and the third is officially launching my company. A year ago I was an overeducated auditor surrounded by stagnation and compromise.
The person who’s stuck is the person who wants to be. Welcome to 2016. Class is in session and the course is your life. Let's get to work. If you used this article’s instructions, or found them helpful, please let me know in the comments below. A special thanks to Gary, whose honesty and hustle have inspired many of us.