Whatever Happens Next

I’m often asked where I envision myself, my career, my life in five years. But I don’t have a good answer for this.

Looking back five years, I was in a very different place from where I am today. My lifestyle, my priorities, my hopes and dreams, my relationships and work: it’s all changed.

In small and dramatic ways, I’ve iterated, I’ve grown, and the idea of making decisions today, based on my wants and needs of back then, makes little sense.

Why would I prioritize the concerns and goals of a less experienced, more ignorant version of myself?

Looking into the future, then, five years from now, I wonder: what use will the me of a decade hence have for the goals of my current iteration?

I will have learned so much more, will have expanded my horizons in so many directions. It would be immensely limiting to box myself in, to construct a framework for how I’ll live at that point based on what I know, what I care about, today.

And yet, there is value in preparation—in preemptive investment.

It’s a good idea to construct a foundation upon which to stand, to build, and from which you can leap. It’s a good idea to make investments for the future, to ensure such a foundation is in place, even if you’re not positive which specific investments might pay off most generously.

I’ve found that cobbling together a flexible framework—a malleable scaffolding, rather than a rigid skeleton—can work well, here, allowing one to make investments without limiting one’s future options.

What this means in practice is making investments in capabilities, resources, knowledge, relationships, and broad-based infrastructure, all of which will make it more likely that you’re in an advantageous position to take advantage of opportunities, and act upon your priorities, whatever shape they might take, later.

Ensuring that you stay healthy, both physically and psychologically, then, is a good use of time, energy, and resources, according to this model.

In addition to the latent benefits of staying healthy, you’re also in a stable stance from which to make changes when an opportunity emerges that warrants them. You’re also more capable of coping with discomforts and challenges when doing so will lead to worthwhile outcomes.

Investing in knowledge and new skills, likewise, make it more likely that you’ll have relevant know-how you can apply to solving problems, ideating solutions, and thinking your way to new heights, or out of a stumble.

Continuous, life-long learning also helps you recognize opportunities for what they are, and makes it more likely that you’ll understand the context in which you operate, even as that context changes with time.

It’s also prudent to make investments beyond yourself, in terms of your economic foundation—putting money away, acquiring assets, paying down debt and discarding liabilities—and in terms of your environment, community, and the larger world in which you exist.

It may not be smart to commit to a 30-year mortgage if you’re not positive you’ll want to live in the same city for the next several decades, but it’s not a bad idea to ensure you’ve got down-payment money in the bank in case you do decide you want to take some kind of up-front-investment-dependent path in the future.

More broadly, it may make short-term financial sense to found a business that churns out widgets for which you know there’s an enthusiastic market. But if the production of those widgets has an environmental downside, or if you know that the market you plan to serve is predicated on compulsory consumption, rather than real utility and value, it may be a better idea to invest your time and resources elsewhere.

I think of this process, this long-term development of a flexible framework, as planting seeds.

I plant seeds—knowledge seeds, infrastructure seeds, asset seeds, relationship seeds—never knowing which will bloom, or what they’ll look like when they do, in an attempt to stack the deck for serendipity. The goal is to make it more likely that I’ll have what I need when I need it, despite not knowing what those needs might be, today.

But I do know that if I plant enough of them, and if I take care of the ground in which I plant them, and if I cultivate whatever grows as a consequence, I stand a much better chance of being prepared for whatever happens next.

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