When it comes to the things I use, especially those I rely on every day, I want to use only things that have been proven as much as possible. Proven to work. Proven to last. Proven over time and use.

This is fairly easy and straight forward to find in the offline world. For instance, I gravitate towards and enjoy using pen and paper because it is proven. As a tool it works, lasts, requires nothing else, has been around for hundreds of years, and is used almost everywhere so is easy to find. Other tools are proven too. Hammers are proven, for example. Nail guns may be a quicker way to drive a nail but require power and have a hundred ways they can fail or break. A hammer always works.

In the online world, it’s a bit more difficult to find things that are proven. Things change quickly. Formats and applications come and go. What’s hot today is gone and unsupported tomorrow in too many cases. Experience has taught me not to rely on many of these things or to be too quick to jump on board new things that come along. They aren’t proven.

Yet, there are some things in the online world that are proven — at least as far as such things can be in the world of technology. Here are two examples: Plaintext and Email. Plaintext (.txt) as a format is proven. It has been around in some form or another since the dawn of modem computing. Email, the basic plaintext form of it, has been around long enough to be considered such. These are things I trust. Things I have used for a long time, work today much the same as they always have, and the chance of continuing to work far into the future is high. Plus, they’re practically universal. Practically everyone who is online has an email address. Practically every computer can open a plaintext file.

This doesn’t mean I won’t use things that aren’t proven. I will and sometimes do. But I don’t place my faith or trust in them until they are proven. I don’t pretend they will be around forever and I always have an escape plan for when they inevitably go away. I don’t go all in on a new thing, especially if it means abandoning something proven.

So, when people ask me why I love and prefer email over [Insert latest email killer here] it’s because email is proven. It’s why I don’t use the latest note taking app or word processor. It’s why you won’t find me hoping on the latest new social thingamajig or chatting whatnot or blogging whozit. And while I watch those things come and go and their users jump on and off them, I’ll still be here using the same proven tools I have for-what-might-as-well-be-ever and getting the things I want to do done.

Who are you in the future?

When thinking about long term goals, those goals that are several years out, I think the common inclination is to think about what you want to do in that time. For example, a common five year goal might be to be at a specific point in your career or occupation, a certain level of income, to travel to a specific place, or an ambitious fitness goal. While these are all worthwhile goals to focus on, I would argue that in order to best achieve these goals there is an essential question that one first must ask, brainstorm, and meditate on. In fact, these goals should only be based on, and a natural progression from, the following exercise…

Get a large blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I recommend paper because this exercise should be done with immediacy and no editing or judgement. The task is to write down any words or phrases that pop into mind. Ask yourself the following question by writing it at the top of the page:

Who am I in X years?

(Where X is any number you want. I like five because it is distant enough to be achievable but not so much as to not also be accountable.)

OK, now go! The method does not matter. If you are a mind map sort of person, do that. Outlines, essay, sketches, just a bunch of words scribbled down, no matter. Like I said, the point is to answer the question with any words or ideas that pop to mind. Even if it is bat scratch crazy, capture it. You will sort it all out later (and I’ll cover that in another post).

There are some other things I’d like to mention about this exercise. First, the phrasing on the question is important. It is not "Who do I want/wish/hope to be?" because that gives you an out. This is not so much about aspirations. This is about projection. This is about putting yourself in the mind of the person you are in the future. This is about the kind of person you really think you are at that time. It will likely not look all that different than who you are now except for the things you wish to change or improve. If you are currently a smoker you might find that, in your five years from now mind, you may find you are a non-smoker. Meat eaters may find a vegetarian when mentally projecting themselves. You may find you are a world leader or circus clown. But, whatever you find don’t judge! Just capture it and move along.

This exercise will form the foundation of your long term goals. Because, none of those will be remotely achievable without this. For instance, how realistic is it for your to set a five year goal of completing a marathon if you do not also see yourself as an active three-to-five time a week runner five years from now as well?

Also, because this is a free form "no judgment" exercise, when using it to plan your goals you will be rewarded with new goals to consider that you might otherwise have not known you had. To use my own mind map pictured above as an example, the word "Monk" popped into my head, I captured it, and I have no idea why it came to mind. But, when beginning the work on my five year goals, I will now need to figure out where that fits and what that means for a happily married father of a little girl who works for himself full time and has many other obligations that "Monk" is in conflict with. Perhaps it doesn’t belong and I’ll ignore it for now. Perhaps it simply speaks to a desire for a deeper and more meaningful spiritual practice than I have today. Perhaps it means a complete change of course. Regardless, at least I am now forced to consider it and where and if it fits into my long term goals.

I encourage you to try this exercise yourself. At the very least, it will help you see for yourself what things are important enough to you today to make sure are a part of your future.

Almost Always Bull

The Stock Market, playing the long game, and the importance of setting long term goals.

The past couple of weeks have been a wild ride for those following news of the stock markets. Wild swings, low dips and sell offs not seen in recent years, and speculations about uncertainty in foriegn markets. To many outsiders and armchair analysts, there were fears of bubbles and overvaluations. Allusions were made to the crash of 2008 despite this being nothing like 2008. But, there are many who make profit from such FUD, so here was an opportunity to spread it.

But, those in the know pay little attention to the daily ups and downs of the market. They know that, while the Day Traders might make some fast cash to spend on hookers and blow that way, it has little to do with true wealth. Those who know the market know those folks play the short game.

The smart players, at best, see such low dips as a buying opportunity — like a retail Labor Day sale. Most just ignore it because 3% off is hardly a bargain to tell your friends about. Nay, the truly market savvy are looking far out into the future. The trends they look for are not measured in days or weeks, but years. "Let’s look at where this stock was at 5, 10, and 20 years ago" they’ll say. Because that’s how true wealth is built and measured. They play the long game.

To put it in a concrete example, if you bought $1000.00 of Apple stock in 1998 and still had it today, would you really worry if it took a 5% hit tomorrow? The correct answer is "No". Why? Because you would not only be so far ahead today in 2015 it would be silly but you know that in almost 20 more years it could easily be worth 10, 20, or even 100 times more. Why, because it is worth a hundred times more now than when you bought it less than 20 years ago. The long game is almost always "bull".

This is why it is important to think about, name, set, plan, and work towards multi-year goals. What goals do you want to achieve in 5 years? How about 10 years and 20 years? What does your life look like? What seemingly daunting yet massive, slightly scary, but oh-so awesome things are there? Have you thought about that? Have you put a name on them? Are they on your calendar? Have you mapped out how to get there and achieve them? Do you have a rough idea of the steps you need to take?

If not, you are basically playing the short game with your life. And, frankly, like a Day Trader your success and failure is at the whims of your daily to-do list. Get a lot done today and your life is a bull market. Get little done and it’s a bear market. And, like the Day Trader, your life will feel rich one day and bankrupt the next, more than partially due to forces beyond your control. A boss who dumps a project in your lap or a colleague who interupts you or the person that pulls you into a last minute meeting or the kid who gets sick or the car that breaks down. All of these can sweep in and kill the action of those without goals. Just like China screwing with their currency can send the whole world of short players into a tizzy, so can just about anything wreak havoc on the short player’s task list.

But, those with meaningful, long term goals, know to mostly ignore the fluctuations in their daily grind. That all of this is towards a larger and more meaningful goal. That success is measured in years and not days. You know that the value of that item on your list is a pittance because it will pay off one hundred fold when you finally reach that lofty goal. And if you don’t make any movement on it at all today, hey you’ve got 5,10, or 20 years, and with that much time just about anything is possible.

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