Be kind to your future self. If you feel stuck, the best thing you can possibly do for future “you” is to make time to reinvent present “you.”
Six months ago, I was totally out of answers.
It was a chilly, dreary January day in Denver, Colorado. I had just left my job at a marketing company back home in Philadelphia, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. My only instinct, the day I left the office for good, was to book a flight for a short getaway to the Mile-High City, one of my favorite places to visit. I needed that space. I needed that clarity of mind. I was sick and tired of striking out in my search for meaningful work, and I didn’t know where else to look.
Just three years prior, I made the decision to leave another unfulfilling office job to carve my own path. At the time, I knew it was a huge risk, but it was something I knew I needed to do to have any chance of realizing my full potential. But on this cold and lonely day in Denver, it felt like Groundhog Day all over again. Walking down a quiet street in the city’s North Capitol Hill section, I saw my reflection in a café window. I saw no change.
In three years, I went from depressed office worker to world-traveler, to excited entrepreneur, to the pinnacle of the restaurant industry, and back to depressed office worker. Had I just spent those years chasing my tail? What had I accomplished besides coming full circle to yet another desk job?
If this was my master plan to reinvent myself and carve my own path, I was failing miserably. The problem was that I was relying too much on other people for opportunities to determine my future. The bigger problem was that I never gave myself the time to do it for myself.
The Missing Link
Running a restaurant for two of those three years since escaping the cubicle had left me with little time to even think, let alone sleep and shower. My family suffered for it. My girlfriend suffered for it. And my potential for the personal growth and freedom I so yearned for suffered for it.
While walking along the Pearl Street Mall in Denver, I did a quick mental calculation. There are only 24 hours in a day. No matter if you are just scraping by, or if you are Bill Gates, we all have the same amount of this most valuable asset—time. You spend a third of that time sleeping. When you account for the time spent eating, showering, driving, working, etc., you are left with a measly 2-3 hours. And that’s at best. With those remaining hours, you just want to spend it relaxing on the couch, unwinding from the day. When do you find time to reinvent yourself? How can you meaningfully change course from an unfulfilling path that is sucking up all of your time?
Sure, if you want to grind straight through each day, you are free to do that. While there are some mutants out there who have been successful using this method, it does not work for most of us. You simply cannot rely on willpower alone to build anything of quality and value in the long run. You have to get smart and build a reliable system that creates time and cultivates curiosity. On that day in Denver, I decided I needed to find more time to reinvent myself.
How to Find More Time
Coincidentally, Covid-19 took the world by storm shortly after I returned to Philadelphia. Was it a sign from the heavens that I was waiting for? Was it just a coincidence that I needed to recognize and take full advantage of? Whatever it was, it virtually cleared out months of time for me to reinvent myself. So I moved up to a cabin in the Pocono Mountains and got to work.
Even with the pandemic keeping many of us home, finding time still is a big problem. Working from home, handling kids, making dinner, handling the endless chores around the house, and making time to get outside to avoid cabin fever are among the responsibilities for those of us lucky enough to be working from home. Whether you are working from home, working on site, or simply looking for a better system for reinventing your life, I have a four-step, actionable process that will ensure your ability to pivot from an unfulfilling path.
Step One: Commit
“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”
– Martina Navratilova
The most important step of this entire equation is to commit to yourself. You must commit to making the change you so deeply desire. If not, then the rest of this process falls apart.
Just looking at yourself in the mirror and hoping for a change won’t do it. Looking at the Kardashians and wanting their life won’t do it. Chasing the highest paying job you can find won’t do it. Extrinsic motivation never works in the long run if you want to make meaningful change in your life.
You must have an intrinsic, in-your-blood, raging-fire type motivation. Everyone has it. Everyone has that “something” that gets them out of bed in the morning. It just depends on how much the fire has been dulled by years of unsatisfying work and sub-optimal habits.
For me, my intrinsic motivation is family. To reinvent myself is something I needed to do for my family (and a family of my own in the future). I never want to look at my reflection in another café window to see the same underachieving person. I needed to be better for myself and for my family. That is my driving force.
You could also use the 12 Favorite Problems approach. There is no best approach to finding your purpose, but when I am out of answers, this method cuts straight through to the source.
Find that force in your own life—your “why.” Commit to reinvent yourself on a foundation of intrinsic motivation. Make it urgent, because you never know when your time on earth will be up. This is not a process for improving your life. This is a way of actively saving it.
Step Two: Simplify
Once you make this commitment to saving your life, you must take steps from the outset to clear a path.
Most of us, and I am surely in this group, can be hindered by clutter. Physical clutter, mental clutter, digital clutter, time clutter. All of this, whether conscious or not, serves to slow us down and overwhelm us.
I started by cleaning my work area. Getting rid of unnecessary papers, trash, and even objects that didn’t contribute to the look and feel of my work environment. Keeping only the necessary items in the physical spaces where I spend most of my time has made a world of difference. As I always say:
External Mess = Internal Stress
Don’t underestimate the power of your physical environment. Build a place that you are comfortable in, that motivates you, that facilitates calmness and thoughtfulness, that inspires you to do your best meaningful work. You will instantly become more efficient with your time.
This is possibly the toughest area to declutter. The mind is so complex, so unpredictable, and so ever-present that it is hard to even know where to start.
Pick one area that brings you the most stress. I started with quitting the news.
- By not watching the news, I have seen a drastic improvement in my metal state. It is a classic example of addition by subtraction. If a piece of news is important enough, it will find its way to me. But I’ll pass on being depressed by the never-ending stream of crime and politics.
- Along the same lines, read less junk. Scrolling Buzzfeed and your Facebook timeline endlessly will do nothing but make you jealous and lethargic. Clear that head-space, and clear that time off your calendar for more useful activities that will get you on the path to achieving your goal.
- Meditate, or just simply give your mind some time to breathe. Constantly crowding it with unnecessary and stressful inputs will drain your ability and your inspiration for self-reinvention.
- Clean out your inbox. Better yet, schedule a time each week for “inbox-zero.” For me, that is every Sunday night. Being able to accomplish that goal before the new week is often the springboard I need to get off to an productive start.
- Clear your desktop on your computer. Create folders, label properly, and commit to maintaining your filing system. Clutter on your screen will lead to more feelings of overwhelm and ineffectiveness.
- Cut down on TV. You may be in the habit of watching Netflix with your loved ones when you have some free time. But turning off the TV and doing more interactive things with your family and friends can give you a boost in creativity and productivity that you wouldn’t normally get from passive screen time. Less TV is bound to free up a couple more hours per week.
There are so many more ways to declutter your digital life. These are the three that have helped me the most.
In our daily lives, we tend not to organize our time in the way we organize tangible areas like our desks, our homes, and our computers. Due to the invisibility of time, we often let our days become cluttered with insidious, time-sucking activities that will inevitably crowd out productive time each day. To fend off this type of clutter:
- Block out time on your calendar for productive work. By scheduling your week ahead of time, you can visually account for where your time will go. I simply use the calendar on Microsoft Outlook. Many people use Notion or write it down by hand. It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you make an effort to document it.
- Cut down on meetings. If someone needs to meet in person, see if a phone call will do. If they want to talk on the phone, see if an email will do. If they want to reach out over email, see if a text message will do. Be ruthless, yet respectful.
- Simplify your commitments. Look at each part of your life and where you spend your time. If a particular activity is less important than your ultimate goal of reinvention, see if you can do without it for a period of time. Make this comparison with everything you do. Eventually, you will see that your weekly calendar is not as congested as you think.
Step Three: Automate/Streamline
This step will take your time decluttering efforts to the next level. Many of the things we do on a daily basis can simply be automated. After all, we are living in the golden age of leverage, where there is an app, a platform, or a browser extension for almost anything you need.
Rule of thumb, if it can be done digitally or can be delegated, then let it be done digitally or delegated.
- Paying your bills every month can be automated.
- Using Zoom or any other video meeting service will cut down on travel time.
- Instead of going out to shop, use Amazon, use Instacart, use services that are designed to clear your time. Do not be afraid to spend money to make time. Saving money in the short term by doing everything yourself will hinder you from focusing on the most meaningful things. If you value money more than your time, you will never set yourself free.
Waking up every day at an earlier time is also a form of automation. You are automating your life to clear more time for productivity. Doing this for myself improved my ability to get things done by leaps and bounds. There is more time to exercise, get more focused work done, and you will ultimately feel less stressed than ever before.
Step Four: Create
You might ask why I saved the actual reinvention work for last. A big part of my philosophy is that you just cannot rely solely on willpower. You have to build a series of forcing functions to ensure progress. By first committing, then simplifying, then automating, you will have gotten yourself too far in to back out. Using the sunk-cost fallacy to your advantage, you will now be invested deeply in your reinvention process.
It all starts with creation. Figure out what it is that you are naturally passionate about, interested in, and good at. Combine it with a medium of your liking. Whether it is writing, creating your own blog, making your own YouTube videos, recording your own podcast, or painting masterpieces, you have now built in more time to explore your inner self. Through deep self-expression, self-discovery emerges. And through self-discovery, your self-reinvention process becomes inevitable.
Not only will your path to meaning and fulfillment reveal itself through your long-term commitment to this process, you will also open yourself up to a world of serendipity. You will meet people with similar values, similar aspirations, and similar struggles. You will be presented with opportunities you would never have had if you stuck with the unfulfilling, time-draining path.
Value Your Time Above All Else
By looking deeply at how you spend your time, you will realize that there are many areas in your weekly schedule that you can optimize. Be ruthless about protecting your time. We only have 168 hours a week. We only have 24 hours in a day. We only have one current moment. The higher value you put on your time, the more you will get out of life.
Shape your life so that you don’t ever have the depressing cafe window moment I had in Denver.
Sometimes all it takes is a step back and a trip to a place that inspires you. Or you can forcibly transform your life like that jellyfish up top. How you trigger the process of reinvention is up to you.
What matters is that you make yourself and your future the priority. Schedule “you” into your weekly calendar. Put down your phone, turn off the TV and work to reinvent yourself. There are generations yet to come that are relying on you.
Don’t stunt your personal growth with work that doesn’t resonate with you. Be kind to your future self. If you feel stuck, the best thing you can possibly do for future “you” is to make time to reinvent present “you.”
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