Predicting the future is a skill that none of us have, and yet we are always asked the question: Where do you see your self five years from now? This question is common and people don’t always have a good answer. I know I didn’t when I was in my teens. Just as I am getting ready to graduate high school and go to college, somehow I was expected to have a clear idea of what my future would hold. Some people know early on what they want to do for at least the first part of their adult life, and can start down the path to get there. I didn’t. I was slow to evolve in many ways, and the only thing I was ever sure about at that age is I wanted to be a Pro Racquetball player.
Regardless of where you are at now, this question will continue to appear. How do you answer this during the ever-evolving process of life? It ain’t easy, but I will give it a shot…
Let’s start with this: What do you WANT the future you to be like? Do you want:
to be in better shape?
have a different job?
married or unmarried?
to have kids?
to be a writer?
catch your first wave as a surfer?
Whatever it is that you want, whether it is self improvement, a new life scenario, etc., it has to start with a picture in your head. The first thing you have to do is set a course of action, and you do that by honing in on the vision of the “you” in the not too distant future. Depending on this vision, you may need a radical overhaul to your current life and habits, or maybe just a tweak or two in the right places to ensure hitting the mark. Consider this Phase 1. You need to set things in motion by defining what/who/where you want to be in the near future. You are still crawling along, but you start to develop a sense of who or what you could be with a little work. Once you have this vision in your head, you need to work daily to refine it, to sharpen your view of it. This is VERY important in the process; you can only move forward or change course when necessary if you have a defined target to hit.
As you enter into Phase 2, you are now “walking upright” in the sense that you have a clear vision and you have started taking steps towards the “you” of the future. You are still in the rudimentary stages of growth, which can be cool to some degree. At this stage, you grow in leaps and bounds; exponential growth is not out of the questions. However, this is where bad habits get deeply ingrained and you MUST be wary of this. Three months of a bad habit such as the wrong grip on your backhand, the wrong workout program or diet, or poor interview techniques are going to short circuit your growth and you will have a tough time getting past Phase 3.
To really get where you want to go, I would highly recommend seeking help in this phase. You need to get guidance from someone farther down the path to make sure you don’t go astray. The shortest distance between two points (where you are now and where you are headed) is a straight line. The straighter you can keep the line you are walking, the quicker you can continue to elevate and improve. If you are learning a physical skill, spring for some instruction to ensure you don’t spend a bunch of time undoing what you didn’t do right in the first place. If you are looking for a new job, do research on interview techniques, common questions, how to make your resume stand out, etc. Learn from those who have already figured things out. Don’t go it alone, it will take you forever. Like Joe Rogan always says: “I was a chimp in my 20’s…I didn’t know anything!” Yeah, that’s you right now.
Once you move into Phase 3, you are now smarter and starting to work with tools. You have grown immensely over the you of Phase 1, but despite the appearance of it, you are only a third of the way there. say this because many people can get to Phase 3 on sheer talent, unbending determination, etc. even if they are doing things wrong. If you are truly looking to hit the full potential of you in whatever field or discipline, you have to work harder now than ever. There is no time to coast, you have to peddle harder. By now, you will have learned many things, including what you are not good at, what you excel at, and what you may wish to change about your original vision. YES…you read that correctly…YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE YOU WILL CHANGE OVER TIME. This is not a shortfall or a miss of the target, but rather, at this stage you have way more knowledge than before and can make better decisions and create a more refined approach. You’re growing more intelligent about your chosen endeavor, you have experience on this path. Your eyes see more than those behind you, and see glimpses of what those farther down the path than you see. It should become clear to you within this stage of development whether you can continue down the path and realistically have a shot at the peak. Phase 3 is Single A baseball, it is three months of dating someone, it is the place where many people top out. Phase three is where the masses run out of energy, time, desire, whatever the excuse is. It is for the common, the ordinary.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very ordinary at a lot of things and that is just fine. But there are a few things that I want to ensure I do very well, so this is not going to cut it for me. I know I won’t be happy in Phase 3 with certain things in my life. I was an exceptional racquetball player and coach, Final Phase for sure. I am a very good fly fisherman, but not world class…Phase 4 level competence. So the two questions for yourself at this stage are:
1. Do I have what it takes to keep going forward?
2. Am I willing to put the work in to keep climbing forward?
If you had a modest goal and you have already hit it by Phase 3, good for you. Mission accomplished. Now pick a new goal, maybe in another area of your life and start over. If you are ready for more, grab a helmet, cuz things are about to get tougher.
Phase 4 is glass ceiling for all but the very elite. Most will not reach this stage without real concerted effort. A few people will reach this level despite poor technique, bad strategy or a defining strength that has pushed its way forward during the process. For the rest, this is where you have to put in the time to round out your game. You can’t have just a big serve but a terrible backhand, otherwise you will get exploited. You can’t have a great opening line without being able to follow it up with some good conversation, otherwise the date is going to end prematurely. If you are hoping to catch a good wave, you’ve paddled out to the right spot, but you still have to read the water and time your entry just right.
This phase separates the good from the great. To be great, you’ll need to be obsessed. Everything you do at this phase will be geared towards breaking through to the next level. You will learn to outwork your competition and play the game smarter. You continue to refine the process, and the output starts to become an expression of your inner creativity. If you never go beyond this phase, you have done better than almost everyone, but there is one more level up if you are able…
The Final Phase…welcome to the mountain top. You are now a .01%er. Elite. You are breathing rarefied air. You have mastered yourself and your skills. Skills other marvel out flow out of you with ease. This is due to the amount of work you have put in; you have become one with the “you” of the future that you were envisioning long ago. You put in the hard miles and now your goal has shifted to staying on top instead of getting there. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but you are far down the right side of the X/1 improvement curve. Enhancement will come in small, incremental steps instead of leaps and bounds like before.
Reaching this level in one area of your life does not guarantee success or this level of expertise in any other area. You have learned the process to excellence, but unless you dedicate the same amount of time and effort to another endeavor, you will be in Phase 2 or 3 at best. It will be a shorter trip this time, as you are familiar with the phases and what it takes to elevate out of each one. You can transfer some of the knowledge from another area, but not to the point of it landing you in Phase 4 or the Final Phase of the journey.
My advice on this process is this:
Pick one thing to pursue to be great at.
From this pursuit you will learn and grow, develop skills that are transferable, andthen you can branch out into other things. There are very few humans walking the Earth that are truly great at more than one thing. The reason Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson were celebrated for their ability to reach the pro level at both football and baseball at the same time is BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE DID IT.
To be truly great at something, regardless of what it is, will be a major accomplishment, and it may take nearly a lifetime. But that level of Excellence is always a worthwhile pursuit. You will have a reservoir of knowledge to tap into, experiences to draw from and a life that few understand. It is the reason anytime I run into a pro athlete or any famous that I don’t hesitate to introduce myself and start a conversation. They have climbed their mountain, and I have climbed mine. Game recognizes Game, as the saying goes. You will become part of the club; the club of those who pushed harder, traveled farther, and been on the stage while others have just watched.
Your takeaways from this are:
We all get asked questions we don’t have answers to
If you want mediocre results, do what everyone else does.
If you want to rise above, you have to go beyond
To reach the top, you have to work harder, suffer more, and stick around longer than everyone else
To be in the elite company, you have to do the work others just aren’t willing to do
Regardless of your chosen field or endeavor, reaching the top of it will have far reaching impact, way beyond that particular field