Is there an idea that’s been brewing in the back of your mind for some time? Maybe it’s an incomplete image or a fully developed idea. Yet, you haven’t acted on it.
You have some period or soft date in your mind where you’ll dive full throttle into this project. But, what’s that “future state” really going to net you?
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I answered this question for myself 2 years ago. It was spurred by a conversation with my brother. I was talking to him about the future and my aspirations.
He asked me “What’s preventing you from working on that right now?”
Although it is not some revolutionary question, it was jarring to my ego and altered my life path.
I respect my brothers opinions, and he basically called me on the bullshit. It was an important question, asking if my excuses were real or all in my head?
I dedicated time and effort exploring this line of thinking. I wanted to answer that question seriously and kept my brothers scrutinizing tone in mind while I analyzed myself.
The perspective of the rest of this post will be as if I wrote it down 2 years ago. I hope that helps prevent confusion, as I reflect between past, present day, and future thoughts.
Flashback: 2 Years Ago
I’ve set a soft date in my head 2-4 years after graduation where I should be out of debt; where I will finally be unrestrained by money.
This is a best case scenario of aggressively paying down debt, living at my parents and keeping other expenses low too.
Rich In Wealth?
Being freed from debt is a good and desirable scenario, but I want to know: What would it really net me? Less stress, a few less bills, and income becomes accumulating profit.
What would I do with profits though? A little odd to call it profits. Profits are when a company’s revenue is greater than their expenses.
“Extra” money to spend isn’t typically called profits at the individual level, but that’s kind of what they are.
In a company setting, profits can do several things:
- Invest in R&D (your own company)
- Invest in new companies/areas of interest
- Pay dividends to investors
- Give bonuses to employees (should happen more frequently)
Bringing these ideas back to you, the individual. If you are profiting, you can:
- Pour the money back into yourself, or the R&D of You. This could take a variety of forms: Taking classes to learn new skills or develop old ones. Improve your health through a gym membership or more spa days. Go on an adventurous vacation
- Invest in a new venture. Perhaps you have a company or product you want to fund. With extra profits, you now have the capital to fund it yourself. No need to give up half your company to fundraise
- Paying dividends to investors, would just be you. This makes less sense. You already have the dividends and get to decide what to do with them.
- Give to friends, family and strangers. You could make someone’s day by an out of the blue gesture of kindness and appreciation. Think about someone you care about and imagine what gift they would appreciate.
You could also give a large tip to a waiter/waitress at a restaurant. You’ll feel good and so will they!
Money is not required in order to give to friends, family or even strangers. At any time you could give your time, attention and appreciation to them.
- Donate to causes. This could be to a cause you care about or where you’ll know the $ will make a difference. Checkout Givewell to find high impact charities.
For myself, those all sound valuable but deep down, 2 would stand out most to me when wondering about the impact of being debt free. 1, 4 and even 5 can all be down with little to no money.
In a future scenario where I have no debt and profits accumulate, I could risk money investing in companies or products I feel had a high chance of greater returns.
To continually have profits to spend, I’d have to continue my day job though. Money is only one resource that factors in to achieving goals. Is extra money all I seek?
Rich in Time?
The only problem in the above scenario is, I am still bound by time. That 2-4 year period where I’m chipping away at debt, I am bound to a 40 hour week plus commute. There is free time, but it is low.
To make that extra income and gain more free time, I’m likely working another year or two to build a solid savings account.
After building up enough savings, I could finally choose total freedom to work towards my creative goals or projects.
That future would be 4 – 6 years out of school barring no other unforeseen obstacles popping up. That future perfect state would be where I have a surplus wealth and time.
Before analyzing this and putting words to my feelings, the focus in the back of my mind was on a need for some perfect future. This focus paralyzed me from taking any action in the past.
We often focus on a future better state which will free us and let us work on things we really want to do. However, we spend less time on the actual difference between our current and future state.
Ask yourself, “Whether the difference actually prevents you from taking action today?”
For me, the future state nets me more wealth. But on the journey to that wealth, I would vastly reduce my free time. Is that what I want? Is time or capital more valuable to me?
Yes, after a 4-6 year period of reduced free time, I could theoretically gain total free time as a reward. Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty when projecting so far out.
Six years after college, a lot of people are starting families or already have a few kids. I have no idea if I’ll want kids six years after college or where I’ll be at exactly.
A kid changes responsibility. Risk tolerance dwindles significantly.
I’d either need to work and save more money or hopefully have enough saved to buffer raising a kid and building a company simultaneously.
If my want for kids collides with that jump off point to fully quit a job and invest in my own company, that will be a tough, tough decision.
Why wonder about this, especially since I said there was a significant amount of uncertainty?
Projecting so far out is valuable because it helps me understand what I would net in the future, and the value I’m not exploiting in the moment.
So, in a future state, I may become debt free, have extra income to invest and if everything is perfect, gain total free time for a few years.
During that free time, I could fully develop my dreams. What about the present, what resources do I have now compared to that future states.
Present Self (present being 2 years ago)
What about my current state? I’m in college, I have medium amount of free time and not much wealth. Definitely, the free time in college would be larger than when a 40-hour work week began.
Why am I not utilizing that excess free time? I have no good answer for that question except that I wasn’t consciously aware I was rich in time.
It’s true that I am likely richer in time during school than post-graduation. Post graduation the real world starts, bills begin to add up and I’m responsible for it all.
Time is a commodity that everyone values. We are mortal beings and the timer begins ticking at birth. Everyone seems to feel like they don’t have enough time.
Without an excuse, and with the realization that I had excess time already, “How could I best utilize my extra time?”
There are plenty of ways to utilize free time:
I could complete any task that requires time and effort to get done. The cost of many tasks like creating content, marketing, researching, coding, and many more, is time and effort, not money.
I should spend more time finding tasks in line with my goals which cost time, not money.
In college, I am rich in time but low in wealth. Not as rich as total unbound free time, but there’s no guarantee I will ever be so unbound. Right now, I have extra time that’s just slipping away day after day.
I need to figure out how to capitalize on this awareness. My time can be spent to get work done just like money can be spent.
It’s hard to compare the value of money vs. time. A basic level of money is necessary to get by, even minimally.
For myself though, time is likely more valuable. Beyond the threshold where basic necessities of life (shelter, food, water) are met, time becomes much more valuable to me.
Present and Future
By not taking a hard look into my present and future self, I could pretend that some time in the future would be when I took action on dreams in the back of my mind.
This fantasy of the future let my present self off the hook.
Imagining a future where I’m less constrained, in an ideal state, and working on my dreams almost feels real.
Not real in the logical sense, i.e. I imagine it’s actually happening and real, but real in the sense that my mind believes it to be a reasonable future.
It certainly does not feel like a lie to myself or that I’m creating some illusion.
The problem is, under my new pair of bullshit-colored rose glasses, that fantastical future holds me back. I let my future self do the work and just chill in the present.
Also, the idea that wealth would solve all my problems was exactly a fantasy. Excess capital is a luxury. It allows different types of work and volumes to get done.
Just because you have low capital doesn’t mean you are bound by it. We live in an age of venture capitalists and crowd-funding.
If you have a good idea that you truly believe in, you need to find a way to get in front of investors or launch a Kickstarter campaign, sell them on your idea, and gain capital.
It is important to note that lack of capital can actually be a useful constraint. Constraints spur innovation. Solutions must be found which cost little to no money.
Lack of capital should not be a paralyzing constraint.
Ask yourself “What can I get done without capital in pursuit of my goals?” If it turns out to be absolutely nothing, figure out a way to gain capital from outside investors.
What other resources was I unaware of that would be different between my current and future state?
Rich in Network?
Wealth and time are two important resources but they are not the only ones. Your network plays a role in the pursuit of your goals.
A network involves who you know and can cooperate with to achieve your goals. It could be socially or professionally.
In my 4-6 year projection, no net gain in my network was addressed by a freedom of debt.
It turns out, for me, my current network is poor. In the future, with a few years of professional work under my belt, my network would likely be a little better.
What if I worked in an industry not in line with my post-work dreams? That could result in a negligible network gain.
If I’m not actively building relationships and a network in line with my dreams, it’s hard to know whether that network growth would have much value over time.
I left network growth to chance in my above scenarios.
A strong network in line with my dreams has immense value to me. I believe working with others and providing them value is overall synergistic and beneficial to both parties.
There may be an exception once in a while where someone screws you, but if you offer value consistently, you will personally be better off in the long run. And so will everyone else in your network.
At the scale of a network made up of strong relationships, it’s hard to project or quantify the overall benefits and possibilities.
If I hadn’t compared these two states, I may not have noticed a lack of network growth. If the ideal future state, of excess time and wealth, panned out perfectly, I’m sure I’d feel great.
However, I’d be ignorant of my poor network holding me back and slowing me down.
Information is not much of a resource to worry about.
For most purposes, any information can be accessed to learn a required skill or gain the necessary knowledge to support a project.
What happens with a simple Google search though? You trade time for information. The complexity of your question and how well you ask it, determines how much time that information costs.
The one case where information is more scarce is in research and development, where experimentation is required to gain new information.
There’s much we do not know in our collective emporium of knowledge.
Disease, outer space, microbiomes and several other fields all contain pockets of ignorance. Some pockets we do not know about and in the future we will learn about even more we do not know.
These pockets of ignorance are in fact “information scarcity”. Companies, governments and organizations spend money and time unlocking those mysteries through research and development efforts.
The worry with information may be less a lack and more that there’s too much of it. Today, we risk drowning in Big Data and have little concern for dehydration by drought.
For the average person, with access to the internet, information is ubiquitous and nearly free in terms of money.
I am in the same boat, rich in information. It does cost time to search for and access. This is good to be aware of.
By looking at my future and present with a more critical eye, I discovered the difference between the two and the resources I found most valuable.
In a best case future state, I may gain excess wealth and eventually excess time at the expense of low free time for several years. My aspirations would also be on hold during that low free time, being another cost.
Presently, I have excess free time I’m not spending. I do not have excess wealth, but it’s less of a constraint than I let myself believe. Time can be spent to acquire and produce many things, just like money.
Outside of the necessities of life, free time is more valuable to me than excessive wealth. A stronger network is important and I need to figure out how to develop a larger network over the next few years.
Back to my brother’s question, “What’s preventing you from working on that right now?” My beliefs prevented me. Only I held myself back.
I felt like the future would be where I accomplish all my goals. I sought a more perfect future when the present is already sufficient. I have no good excuses for my past inaction.
There are no actual obstacles stopping me. I have time to spend right now. Time to start creating.