Life is Cumulative
Meet “Future You”
Tim Ferris is an extraordinarily talented person who has written best-selling books, has had success as an angel investor, and has done one of the most popular podcasts of all time (900 million-plus downloads).
Ferris deserves his success. Not only has he interviewed some of the most successful and interesting people on the planet, but he’s proven to be an extremely well-prepared interviewer who comes up with some fascinating questions.
One of those questions that he commonly asks at the very end of an interview is, “What would you put on a billboard to get a message out to millions of people?” This is actually a fairly difficult question because the ideal answer would need to be extremely meaningful, but also quite short.
Personally, I’ve thought a lot about what I would put on a billboard in that situation and until today, I have never come up with a good answer. Certainly, there are lots of great quotes I could toss out in that situation, but the answers people give often feel INCOMPLETE. Given that life is so vast and complicated, and a billboard is such a limited medium, it really couldn’t be any other way. Still, when I saw this tweet from Zuby, what I would put on that billboard just hit me like a bolt of lightning:
Simply put, what I’d put on that billboard is…
Because not only is it true, it also becomes truer as you get older. Moreover, it ties into so many other brilliant sayings:
It’s also important because it’s one of those truths that are so profound that we all know it on some level, like the fact that we’re going to die, but we somehow always seem to keep pushing it out of our minds.
We humans just naturally tend to be focused on the now. On the short term.
“What’s the most fun thing I can do now? What’s easiest? What tastes best? What would I enjoy most? How do I get more comfortable?”
The problem with this is that our lives can be thought of as one long, unbroken string. There is, God willing, going to be a “future you” and what you do today can impact him a great deal.
Did you eat grass-fed steak or nachos? Did you smoke a pack of cigarettes or use an infrared sauna? Did you spend $20 on Starbucks and lottery tickets, or did you save it? Did you tell your daughter “Mommy is busy” when she wanted your help or did you help her with her problem? Did you say “Hello” to that pretty girl you think may like you or lose your nerve? Did you spend last night watching reruns of some sitcom for 4 hours or did you spend that time learning to juggle, sew, or perfect your bench press form?
Over time, all of these little decisions compound. They stack. That can be good or bad and it creates a different series of options for “future you.”
When you’re young, it’s often hard to see this for a variety of reasons. You’re poor. You have trouble picturing yourself being “old.” You’re inexperienced. You’re extremely physically resilient compared to what you’ll be later in life, and you feel almost invincible. Then, as you get older, it can become very easy to just react to life. To get into a habit of going to work, trying to decompress every night, and living for the weekend. Yet, the skills you learn and the habits you get into can make an enormous difference.
Let me give you a few small personal examples:
* I took a typing class in high school and even though I only got a “C,” I can still type more than 30 words per minute which turned out to be extremely useful in my career as a writer.
* Almost two decades ago, I took an Excel class at a job I had. I am not an expert, but I know my way around Excel spreadsheets and have useful data I’ve compiled on everything from blood tests to sleep quality that goes back over a decade.
* I had a couple of girlfriends who made an effort to teach me how to cook. Again, I’m not great at it, but I can maybe cook a dozen things thanks to them. Much appreciated, ladies!
* I went to many conservative conventions. I organized dinners, events, and parties there. Then, I invited people I ran into who were interesting or prominent. You would be surprised at how many big-name conservatives will at least respond if I write them primarily because I met them in person a decade ago, seemed like a cool guy, and went out of my way to make them feel included and welcome.
* I chose, for free – and often with no immediate gain at all – to do hundreds of hours as a guest on radio shows over the years. I don’t do as many shows these days, but guess what? When I do get invites, I sound very polished because I already put in my time. I can also lead a group or get up in front of an audience with minimal preparation and do a good job.
Of course, we also pay a cumulative price for making bad decisions or worse yet, just thoughtless, wasteful decisions. Just to name some examples of ones I’ve seen multiple times with people over the years:
* People who spend their whole life living paycheck-to-paycheck because they were never willing to get a second job for a few months and save up a nest egg.
* Men who lost their spouses essentially because they took them for granted and stopped putting in an effort.
* People who never seem to get anywhere in life, but also never seem to do anything. You almost wonder what they do all day.
* People, often pretty fantastic people, who spend DECADES struggling with their self-esteem because mommy and daddy were mean to them when they were teenagers.
* Women who got impregnated by guys who they absolutely should have known were never going to be in a long-term relationship.
* People who had some kind of potentially correctable injury or medical problem who ignored it for years, sometimes decades, then had it turn into a major issue as they got older.
Again, it’s important to give these real-world examples because we so often don’t think about all the opportunities we have to change our lives for the better. We’re not talking about being robotic or always doing the right thing, but those daily habits, even the small ones, can absolutely make or break your life as it plays out over decades.
Just to give you some examples of what sort of habits we’re talking about…
Are you reading books? Learning new skills? Regularly walking, lifting weights, or doing some other kind of exercise? Are you making time for real-world social activities? Are you making an effort to treat the people in your life that are important like they are important? Are you addressing medical problems? Are you saving a little money out of every paycheck? Are you investing money? Are you going to church? Have you learned any self-defense? Are you wearing quality shoes? Are you sleeping in a decent bed? Have you taken steps to make sure the Internet, social media, and your smartphone aren’t sucking up an inordinate amount of your time? Are you eating a lot of healthy, whole foods? Are you stretching and/or doing some mobility work? When was the last time you told your spouse, your kids, or your parents that you love them? Are you regularly feeding your mind positivity, wisdom, and morality, or negativity, stupidity, and cruelty?
You can call it karma, the scales of justice, or “you get what you deserve,” but all these things are really just a reflection of the fact that life is cumulative.
This is good news for a lot of people, but not such good news for others. If you’re one of them and regret that you wasted a lot of your life, there’s another old quote that comes to mind:
You sometimes have to go down a longer, harder road to fix your mistakes, but it’s still a good idea. If it came right down to it, it would be better to spend the last year of your life stretching towards being the best version of yourself than to never do it at all. Still, most of us have a lot longer than a year to live. What are you going to do with it, and would your future self approve of it?