A Small Goal is Better than a Grand Plan

We all have grand plans. Who's future projection of themselves goes something like this: "One day, when I'm rich (goal one), location independent (goal two), and married to a fabulous woman (goal three), I will travel the world (goal four) while exploring my hobby of _______ (goal five)." Sounds nice, but this narrative assume so much, and is so ill-defined. With such a disconnect between here and there , why wouldn't you just go play video games all evening. Again. We'll work on that stuff later.

I suspect many of us struggle with the above problem. Great big grand goals completely disconnected from reality. No clue where to begin, and it's all daunting anyway. So lets go do something else.

Over the last few years, I've grown less-bad at breaking big problems into little problems, and dealing with those small things. I've made progress towards some big life goals (I married a fabulous woman!) and have plenty of progress to make towards other goals. (I don't yet own a jet/boat/villa.)

Motion is Easy, Can be Pointless

The last two years have been marked by completely disconnected, insignificant bits of progress towards over a dozen different goals. I've learned a little Excel, basic HTML and CSS, Python, Ruby, database management, SEO optimization, amateur-at-best handstands, a little bit of business consulting skills, public speaking skills, amateur-at-best running skills, intermediate-at-best Krav Maga skills, too many hours of Call of Duty, a bunch of books, a brief foray into meditation/mindfulness, "mental math", learned a few chords on the Ukulele, spent far too many hours on Reddit, wrote (and than abandoned) a small book, filmed (but never edited) climbing instructional videos, own (and have ideas for) a half-dozen domains, read a few books on stock investing, then real estate investing, spent a ton of time on work-related side projects, and who knows what else.

The above represents a tremendous amount of activity, but zero progress. I can carry on a half-intelligent conversation on a few different subjects, but in none of the above areas have I had a significant impact on anyone's life, except for my own.

There are two items on the list that belong in a category of their own. I've undertaken only two things with consistency and intentionality, and I (if no one else) have derived significant benefit from these things... and I just spent twenty minutes on Twitter. Where was I?

Oh, right. Important things, consistency, impacting lives. Climbing and writing. Climbing is, well... it's climbing. Writing does, occasionally, bring a clarity to my own thinking. I sincerely hope to be helpful/useful to others, but writing is without peer for solidifying my own thinking. So I write. About one in three times I hit the "publish" button.

So what's the solution? How does any of us resolve the tension between the what is and the what could be.

Think of the Slope, not the Y-Intercept

Stanford Professor John Ousterhout had a reputation for lectures categorized as "thoughts for the weekend". One of his most memorable was titled A little bit of slope makes up for a lot of y-interceptPlease, read his lecture. It's very short. His summary paragraph:

I often ask myself: have I learned one new thing today?  Now you guys are younger and, you know, your slope is a little bit higher than mine and so you can learn 2 or 3 or 4 new things a day.  But if you just think about your slope and don't worry about where you start out you'll end up some place nice.

This quote, this idea, is the resolution between what is and what can be. Try to learn two or three new things a day, and you'll end up some place nice.*

-Josh

*The required qualifying statements is a whole other article.