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Why setting goals in life simply won’t cut it anymore


Year One- Future-Proof Your Life

Picasso’s Napkin

As the story goes, Picasso was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer approached and asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso politely agreed, swiftly executed the work, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a rather significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!” she exclaimed. “No,” Picasso replied — “It took me 40 years.”

The masters make it seem easy. Jack Dorsey, Beyoncé Knowles, Robin Sharma, Pharrell Williams and the pantheon of other people we revere at the top of their game all produce and perform at peak levels with a seeming effortlessness. We are, however, witness only to 20% of their excellence — the execution. What’s often invisible to us, is their system — the remaining 80% of their craft comprised of gruelling hard work, dedication and strategic planning that goes into creating the circumstances necessary for continuous long term success.

“The more you sweat in the gym, the less you bleed in the ring.” — Sugar Ray Leonard

No New Year’s Resolutions

This is not the time for resolutions. We are in what Mitch Joel is calling, “A time of great upheaval.” This is a time of volatility and uncertainty. Purgatory, if you will.

It goes without saying that resolutions are weak and lack follow-through. There’s nothing substantial to bind our generally unrelated resolutions together. No matter what your end game is — if you want to get in better shape, build a successful business, raise a wonderful family, write a best-selling book or win a championship — resolutions simply won’t cut it anymore.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

The decisions that you will make in the next 12 months, in this shrinking window of opportunity, will dictate how the next 10 years of your life will play out. You will either be wildly successful or you will fail. Hard. Worse, you may flutter into obscurity. There’s very little middle ground here.

“We are firmly in an era of accelerated progress. We are witness to advancements in science, the arts, technology, medicine and nearly all forms of human achievement at a rate never seen before. We know more about the workings of the human brain and of distant galaxies than our ancestors could imagine. The design of a superior kind of human being — healthier, stronger, smarter, more handsome, more enduring, seems to be in the works. Even immortality may now appear feasible, a possible outcome of better and better biological engineering.” — Costica Bradatan (Associate Professor @ Texas Tech University)

Welcome To Year One

This isn’t 2014. This is Year One. Make no mistake about it: peacetime is over. We’ve had our whole lives to prepare for this year. Consciously or otherwise, you’ve been stacking hours against your requisite 10,000 hoursneeded for mastery of whatever it is that you were meant to do for the rest of your life. It’s all been training until this point. Now, I need a certain intensity from you. I need you to frantically put in as much of the 8,765 hours afforded to you this year as possible.

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“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.” — Sun Tzu

First impressions and first salaries are surprisingly accurate predictors of final impressions and final salaries. Similarly, Year One is of utmost importance in building momentum. This is the year where all of your moves must be configured to support your vision of success. Year One has to be about building systems to amplify your personal, professional and academic trajectory.

Systems, Not Goals

As I mentioned earlier, resolutions (and by extension, goals) simply won’t cut it anymore. The inspiration for Year One came from a recent article in Entrepreneur by James Clear, which underscored a lesson imparted to me by a mentor very early in my career: Allan Grant, Assistant Director at the University of Toronto, advised me to “plan for obsolescence by building systems.” He suggested that the most effective way to remain relevant and simultaneously advance was to create systems designed to optimize sustainable growth — systems that would minimize input and maximize output. Again — systems, not goals. According to James Clear, here’s why goals won’t work:

  1. Goals reduce your current happiness.
  2. Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.
  3. Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.

He continues: “While goals are good for planning your progress, systems are good for actually making progress.” Systems beget deliberate, consistent and methodical progress for consistent gains down the road. Resolutions flutter, and goals flame out. Systems, are forever.

The Blueprints

Over the next 12 months, I want to decode the blueprints of several stellar Year Ones: Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1966, Bill Gates in 1975, Steve Jobs in 1976, Oprah Winfrey in 1983, Marc Jacobs in 1986, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 1996, Tina Fey in 2000, LeBron James in 2003, Kanye West in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, Drake in 2010, and many more. I invite you to join in on this project: Let’s understand and write about people we admire.

We will study systems built by people who made strategic moves in their first year, which set them up for wild success throughout their career.

We will study the art of future-proofing.

Reverse Engineering

My biggest takeaway from Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek was the idea of reverse engineering one’s life. It’s rooted in the notion that many of us are chasing arbitrary goals on a year-to-year basis. Tim instead proposes to envision what your life should look like at a determined distant point, and then reverse engineer that vision to the present day in order arrive at a specific plan for achieving said dream scenario.

Let’s not focus on 2014. Instead, let’s focus on 2024. What should our lives look like at this time, a decade from now?

Are You Ready?

In Year One, we will study the likes of Michael Jordan, who unwaveringly practiced 3 hours each day for his entire career. We will study the likes of Stephen King, who writes a minimum of 1,000 words each day. In reverse engineering the lives of some of the most successful people in the world, we’ll separate their goals from their systems. We’ll take it back to their first year, to their debuts, and decode their methods. I have confidence that we’ll find some common denominators across these stories that will help us arrive at our own formula for winning in this generation of flux.

Title Photo Credit: flickr

in your inbox everyday at 10am CST.

No fluff or "pie in the sky inspiration." Just real stories.

Written by Hamza Khan

Hamza is an award-winning digital strategist and entrepreneur making a splash in higher education.