I’ve talked before about time being the ultimate currency. Assuming we believe that to be true, then it’s vital that we treat it as the precious and finite resource it is – and most importantly – that we use it wisely. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become obsessive about time. If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, check out The Death Clock for a reminder of just how precious and limited our time is (thanks to Tim Ferriss for introducing me to this).
For most folks my age, their biggest fear is of something catastrophic happening to their family, massive financial misfortune, or perhaps an untimely health-related concern. I used to have those as well, but once I did everything to control what I could, I realized that it was out of my hands and that by fearing what I couldn’t control, I was self-defeating. Over time, though, my biggest fear became not using every second I’ve been given, every ounce of energy, and every bit of knowledge to simply be better. That doesn’t mean that I’m hung up on doing something grandiose or famous. Rather, my focus is on simply being every bit as good as I can be.
This isn’t about fame or fortune or even the admiration of our friends. This is about time and making damn sure that I don’t go into the dirt leaving something on the table. Ever heard the phrase “I want my last check to bounce?” We must approach our time this way. When it’s time for us to leave this world, the last thing we can ever see is unspent time, or time wasted on things that weren’t valuable.
I see this a lot with folks of all ages, but particularly with younger professionals. Time isn’t spent building something or working on themselves personally, but rather binge watching Netflix or playing Xbox. I don’t mean to knock entertainment. Sometimes a little mindless entertainment is important for us to recharge our brands and bodies. But there’s certainly a limit to that. We cannot let future generations lose their lives to wasted time. That starts with us setting an example.
The way we do this and ensure that our own time is not wasted is by challenging ourselves. It’s challenging ourselves that allow us to pack value into our time. We need to very consciously think about this: what are we doing in our lives to be a better professional, parent, spouse, etc. We must be very deliberate about setting up a series of increasing challenges to allow ourselves to grow. Without those, time moves quickly and ultimately slips away.
These challenges don’t have have to be a massive goal like racing Ironman or getting your kid into Harvard. It just has to be something that makes you think and alter your behavior to be a better version of yourself. Once you start attacking one goal after another, you start to see a radical transformation in your life.
State these goals. Say them. Write them down. Get it tattood. Whatever you do, create a challenge that will shake every fiber of your being and pursue it. You may fail, but it’s not permanent.
Growing up in a smaller town, there were a few of us that had some pretty ambitious goals for ourselves. Some obtainable, some perhaps not. What I always recall, however, is the incredible resistance that I met when people heard about these goals. Perhaps this was driven by a pervasive feeling of “if they achieve something, that makes me less.” Whatever it was, a good dose of doubt, mockery and jokes met myself and those that had larger aspirations for themselves.
For some that’s fuel and motivation. For leaders, that doesn’t matter. Their motivation is entirely produced by themselves. For real leaders, it’s the pursuit that makes them happy. It’s the pursuit that brings satisfaction. But happiness isn’t the point. The point is to be a better version of ourselves – and every day that’s what we must strive to be. To leaders, the inputs are far more valuable than the outcome can ever be.
So what holds people back? Many never attempt great things not necessarily because they fear what most think of as failure, but because they fear the circumstance it may bring. Usually that circumstance is not nearly as bad as we make it out to be. But more importantly, what they ought to fear is not falling short of their goal, but rather not pushing themselves to achieve it in the first place. What are you more afraid of? Falling short of your goals or living a life that wasted time?
I get to meet a lot of awesome people. The biggest thing that these folks have in common is their relentless pursuit of something – anything. The minute we stop chasing is the minute we start dying. You don’t have to be in the dirt to be dead.
Several years back I was sitting with my grandfather. Well into his eighties, he operates a fairly large farm in the Midwest that he built from nothing and has done quite well. At the time of our chat, he had just retired. That meant that he cut back from 16 hours a day on the farm to 12. Talking about the topic of retirement, I asked what drove him to keep putting in the hard, long hours when he didn’t have to. He was quiet for 15 seconds or so as he looked away, then he turned back to me and said “when you slow down, you die.”
Make the choice to start living today. To start chasing things in your life. To devote yourself to constantly forging yourself with fire to be the best you that you can be. Make today the day you challenge yourself to be everything that you can be. The alternative is death – and you don’t have to die to be dead.
Don’t get caught up in that small town trap that I mentioned. Just as you lift yourself up, lift up those around you. Encourage them to find their challenge and to chase it with fervor. The world can never have enough folks doing this.
As always, thanks for reading, and thanks to those who keep spreading the word. The messages I’ve been getting from many of you have been a thrill to read. I’d love to hear about what challenge you’re pursuing in your own life.