The Amazing Benefits of Short-Range Thinking
Accomplishing in two months what I failed at doing in ten years
Being precocious in some ways, I started trying to decide on my career at age 12. At age 22 I gave up. For various periods of time during those ten years, I thought I was going to be a farmer, a preacher, a medical technologist, a square-dance caller, a mathematician, a custom furniture maker, an underwater welder, and a philosopher. During those ten years, I was always thinking long-range in trying to decide what I would be happy with.
Then I gave up. I said to myself, "Forget about deciding on a career. Just find a job you think you might like. If, after three months, you don't like it, quit and get another job. Keep doing this until you find a job you like." I was now thinking short-range.
Having just moved to New York City, within three weeks of applying for various jobs, I got an offer from IBM, which I accepted. They trained me as a specialized computer programmer. Within another month, I was loving this job so much, I knew I had found my career.
Two failed marriages, but then an amazing love for over ten years.
I've been married twice. The first one lasted ten years, the second one five years. I can say that both myself and my wives tried our best. But we had created the context of "long-range." We were married and we lived together. We always had time to "work on our marriage" in the future. Neither one of us felt the urgency or focus of the short-range. This created a circumstance in which we were taking each other for granted.
Again, I learned the power of short-range thinking
Kaitlin and I met on April 20th, 2010. She was a graduate student studying journalism, working as a part time manager in a Thai restaurant that I stumbled onto that day. Step by step...it didn't take that long...she became my girlfriend. But the context that I established in our relationship was one of risk (short-range): we would only see each other once a week (or less). Yes, I wanted the relationship (provided that it was still good) to last as long as possible. But I somehow knew that the best way was to focus short-range: to do my best to make the next time we were together to be the most special for both of us.
And it's still short-range today. When we recently celebrated our ten-year anniversary, it was extra special because both of us knew that it could have never been guaranteed. At this point, neither of us is anticipating an end to our romance, but we know it could happen...if we don't "keep each other happy." And it's so exciting for each of us to anticipate the next time we'll be together, each of us doing our best to make our time together great now, not thinking too much long-range.
Ricardo's life is in a mess
Ricardo, from Changsha, China, is a 21-year-old Chinese student whose been attending Ohio State University. He's become good friends with an American client of mine who asked me to help Ricardo make sense out of his future. Because of COVID-19, Ricardo's schooling has been interrupted and three flights that he was booked on back to China have been cancelled. All his plans are up in the air...and there is no clarity about when he might be able to start making long-range plans again.
Chinese like to plan long-range
More than Americans, Chinese feel uncomfortable if they don't have a clear future, a clear path ahead, usually stretching several years in advance. And this is how Ricardo felt.
Forget about your future; focus on now and the future will take care of itself
"Imagine that your only job is to make this day, this coming week, maybe even the next two weeks, interesting, engaging, and great. Forget about going back to China. That's not an option now. Forget about your major or what your career may end up being. That's off the table. Focus on all the interesting and adventurous things your could do or learn in the next day and the next week. Keep reaching out and planning out the next severals days, but don't stretch it much further than two weeks. You can do this. This is available to you right now. This is the great life you can live now. If you do this and continue to do this, the future will take care of itself, probably much better than you trying to plan for it."
He got it.
You might be thinking...
"If you just consider the next two weeks, couldn't that really mess up your future?" Yes, it could: maxing our your credit cards, eating like a pig, getting falling-down drunk. So, in your short-range thinking, you still need to take off the table any options that would likely damage the future beyond those two weeks. Aside from that, you've got a blank canvas to create with.
A choice of courage