Take a long view on your life

Take the long view on your life

What will you do today? Will it move you towards your goals? More importantly, do you have a clear vision of your future? Do you have a plan, not only for the next five or ten years, but for the decades to come? After all, if we all survive the next few decades, medical advances promise to substantially prolong our lives. Our days are dominated by meetings, e-mail, social media, and to-do lists, which rarely lead to tangible results. All these trivialities divert us from the things that really matter. Shifting your focus from the small and immediate to a grand, long-term view will help your life unfold the way you want.

How many lives do you have?

We all lead many lives. I’m not talking about afterlives or reincarnation. We go through such dramatic changes that they might as well be different lives. I first thought about this while reading Walter Moers’ beautiful novel The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear. Like the hero of the book, I have already lived many lives — a neophyte, a schoolchild, a soldier, a bank trainee, a Ph.D. candidate, an international corporate banker, a university lecturer, and an entrepreneur. I have become who I am today by living several “mini-lives”, due to both personal choices and lucky accidents. I expect there are many more lives in my future.

What if we could determine which lives we lead? What if we became both screenwriter and director of our future lives?

Take the long view on your life

Here’s an exercise that lets you review the lives you’ve already lived, and to become the conscious creator of your future lives. Adapted from Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers’ book Creativity in Business, the exercise “My Life: 1–99” helps you look at the big picture and take a long-range view on your life:

  • Divide each of five large sheets of paper into two columns. Title the ten columns with “Birth to 9”, “10 to 19”, and so on until “90 to 99”.
  • Look back at your life so far. Write what happened during each decade, and then give each decade a descriptive title.
  • Reviewing what you’ve written, ask yourself: What did I achieve? How happy was I? What does my past tell me about my future? What lessons can I learn?
  • Then imagine living to be 99 years old. Who do you want to be, and what do you want to do and have, during each decade of your life? What will be important to you, professionally and personally? What roles will you play? How will you make a difference? What will you create during each decade? What will your legacy be? Write a description, and a title, for each coming decade.
  • After you have described all ten decades, step back and look at your life. Are you happy with the story it tells? How can you make it better? What about your legacy? What patterns and themes do you see in your life?

When I did this, I learned that my life goes in cycles as the seasons do, and that I am currently in spring, my most creative period. I am focusing on creating products for my innovation company. In my next, “summer” decade, I will be promoting and commercializing those products. In the ensuing “fall” period I will move those products into new markets. Finally, “winter” will bring consolidation, and ensuring that the company will continue even after I am gone.

Most people don’t see the forest because they’re looking at the trees. This powerful exercise not only makes you see the forest — it also lets you reshape it, and can even reveal your passions and your life’s purpose.

Focus on one thing a day

Once you know what you want the story of your life to be, start creating that future. What decisions can you make, what can you do today to progress towards your goals? The immensity of it all can be daunting, so the way to accomplish those goals is to, each day, focus on one thing.

In their book The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggest that every morning, and whenever you feel you need to realign your priorities with your goals, you ask this question: “What’s the ONE thing I can do ∙ such that by doing it ∙ everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Ask yourself that daily, and it will help you prioritize your actions, and to slowly but steadily do what it takes to realize your goals and dreams. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but rather stone by stone, day by day. Likewise, create your life, and achieve your goals, one thing by one thing, day by day.

Conclusion: Most people overestimate what they can produce in the short-run and dramatically underestimate what they may achieve in the long run. In contrast, authentic creative leaders envision the grand big picture of their life and then focus on realizing this vision one step at a time. Taking a long view on your life is one of the exercises in my upcoming book titled “GENIUS JOURNEY. Developing Authentic Creative Leaders for the Innovation Economy”. Would you like to learn more about the book — or about our creative leadership method Genius Journey and our related creative leadership training courses? Then drop us a line and let us know more.


© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post  on November 6 2014.