The best strategy to win big is to not die.
A car skidded to a halt in front of my feet the other day. The driver, shocked, waved me on. I finished crossing the street, shaking my head, exhaling. Deeply.
She wasn't wearing glasses or texting, as far as I could tell. I wasn't wearing dark colors. The sun was shining. Who knows why she didn't see me? But if death by automobile isn't a good enough reason to slow down and look both ways, I don't know what is.
Everyone argues that today matters, but few act like it.
Waking up angry at the alarm clock is a terrible way to start the day. Five out of seven days we wish it was another one. One closer to the weekend. Turns out that Loverboy song was really trying to warn us about our own troubles.
We're forgetting that every day has its gifts because it's not like Christmas. If we're not getting presents, we assume there is nothing to jump out of bed for. Just like I assumed there was no need to look both ways.
How do we breathe life back into our days? With the future as our goal, we're disappointed until we get there, and disappointed when it passes. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has a better idea. On the Tim Ferriss podcast, Adams suggests that instead of a goal-oriented mindset, we need to embrace a system-oriented mindset:
"The idea is that if you have a goal-oriented approach to the world that that's an approach that made perfect sense 200 years ago if you were a farmer and you had a simple operation and you thought if you cleared another ten acres before winter you could grow more corn, you were almost certainly right. So clearing those ten acres before winter was a perfectly good goal and it made perfect sense to pursue it.
But now fast-forward, alright? It's modern times. There's probably more technology, more complexity in your pocket, right now, in your smartphone than the farmer had in his entire operation. Today if you're focused on one thing for more than a minute and a half there is a good chance that that thing is no longer worth having. There are people going to school for degrees that won't mean anything even four years from now when they get out of school. You've got people who are making plans with a clear focus in a world that no longer supports a clear path to anything."
The best option is to play your odds because if you're shooting for the moon, you might blow off your own foot. Even if it's all the rage to throw your passion into one world-morphing project, there is an arrogance thinking the world wants or needs what you're ready to offer.
Scott Adams took a different approach, almost by accident. Creating Dilbert was a lucky combination of mediocre drawing skills, years of office experience, and psychology knowledge. Plus, Adams knew about the Internet before other cartoonists.
Every day becomes another chance to grow. With every skill you acquire and practice, and every person you meet and greet, you're increasing your odds to be unique and useful when the Big Goal You Didn't Know comes around. Adams notes in his book How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big, "The hallmark of a good system is that even as things are failing you're still improving your odds and your personal worth."
My best friend Rob is a perfect example. Since he was a kid, he has followed his curiosity. He tinkered with tossed computer parts and hunted down answers to his scientific questions. When he started teaching high schoolers in a tough part of New Jersey, he knew he had to introduce technology into the classroom.
Luck would have it that I worked at Squarespace at the time. Rob started using the software to turn the classroom paperless and document his adventures in teaching. People bit.
And a few years later, he nailed his current job in California taking the birds-eye view and transforming the entire educational landscape. The goal wasn't to be the best educator in all the land, it was always to learn something. And I'm glad to say he is still going.
The dots can only align if you're making dots. The sneaky part is we're searching for the perfect dots.
John Peterson wrote about this in an article titled The Opposite of Evolution. Ubiquitous ease and convenience of choice has brought the world to our fingertips with unlimited media, instant dating connections, and delivery food. Not a bad list, but we're forgetting the skill it takes to really listen to a new album, ask a stranger their name, or make a home-cooked meal.
Peterson remembers the joy of doing one thing:
"I was in high school. It was 11:59AM. I was famished.
But when the bell rang, I didn’t eat. I ran to my car. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time.
I skidded into the parking lot. I ran into the record store. And there it was: Weezer’s second album.
I ripped off the plastic wrapper with my teeth. I slid the CD in.
Volume up. Seat reclined. I disappeared."
Rome wasn't built in a day and the universe wasn't either. We're rushing with passion when the truth is that life doesn't move that fast. Maybe yet. You can point to some success in this world that felt like warp-speed but you don't know the skills and curiosities and luck that delivered it.
Personal development juggernaut Jim Rohn jokes about this:
"Six days of labor and what? One day of rest. Now it's important not to get those numbers mixed up.
Why not five and two? I don't know, maybe five and two would be okay. If God would have thought of five and two he might of made it five and two. You can't think of everything when you're putting one of these together."
You can't do everything today but you can do something every day. Know what you need to do a bit of every day. As Adam Grant wrote in a great article titled Why I Taught Myself To Procrastinate, "lower your standards for what counts as progress, and you will be less paralyzed by perfectionism."
So shut up about tomorrow. What are you doing today?