field notes

10 years from now

The other week I was listening to The Tim Ferriss Show episode with Debbie Millman on my walk to the grocery store and back, and there was a part near the end that stopped me in my tracks. (By then I was at home and standing in my kitchen with the groceries half put away.)

It was the part where Debbie Millman describes an exercise she did as a student of Milton Glaser, where you picture your life 10 years from today, and write out what it looks like, and write out a whole day in that life, in as much detail as you can. It sounds like exactly the kind of thing I would immediately shrug off and never bother to do.

But something about the way she spoke it into my ear, grabbed me; it was just as if we were 10 years in the future, and I was on the phone with a friend from way back, who was breathlessly asking me all kinds of questions about what my life looks like now (“Where are you living? Who are you living with? Do you have pets?”), while I’m laughing and going, “Hang on, hang on, one question at a time.” And unlike those exercises that just ask what your 10-year goals are, the way she put it made me feel like I could answer the questions, like it would be fun to.

So I sat down yesterday and wrote it all out. You’re supposed to read it again, once every year for 10 years, and supposedly it all comes true with spooky accuracy. I could see how that would be possible. But whether it all comes true or not, writing out that day in my future life is probably one of my favorite things I’ve done all week, maybe even all year. It put into perfect clarity what I actually want. Because it’s easy to say, “I want more money.” But really, if you had that, what would you do all day? Would it be any different from your life now? If you don’t know, then it’s hard to know what you actually want your life to be.

Being able to clearly see what I actually want means I can also see what I can already do right now, and do it. Example: in my vision, as a small detail I noted that I only look at my personal email (assuming email still exists) one time the entire day, for less than 15 minutes. That’s something I can do now! So I closed my tabs and have only looked at email once a day since then. Living the dream.

Lucky for us, some nice, practical person posted the audio clip I’m referring to, and the transcript, on the internet here. You can also put on the original podcast episode and the part I’m referring to starts at 01:32:22. If you want to check it out, I recommend listening to it before you read the transcript, for the same effect I described above.

The same day I did the exercise, I was reading Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended), in particular the Paris Review interview, where Caro says that before he can start writing a book, he has to boil its essence down to 1-3 paragraphs, and that it takes him weeks to get those paragraphs right.

If you consider that each of Caro’s books is about 1000+ pages long and takes him about 10 years… in writing that first, tiny outline, he’s basically writing himself a 10-year vision! He does it because, over the course of covering that much material, he could easily digress into anything, and that clear vision helps him distinguish between the necessary digressions and the ones that need to be cut.

Sounds a lot like life.

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