Doomsday Is Here?

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As I write this post, we are two days from the Winter Solstice 2012, which is on Friday, December 21, 2012. This is the day each year when we in the northern hemisphere have the shortest daylight and longest darkness. For many years now I have had this particular Winter Solstice in my calendar under the heading:

End of The World (Mayan Doomsday Prophecy)

You are either reading this before or after 12/21/12. If before, you may laugh off the prophecy or you may be really expecting the world to end. If after, you will know that either the prophecy was false or the interpreters of the prophecy were mistaken. This idea of the end of the world intrigues me with regard to writing and living my Forward Story. The fact is that on Friday life will end for many people on earth. Even if it doesn’t end for all of us, many will meet their own end as a result of natural causes or the risks of life as mortal beings.

Any Forward Story that does not take into account the fact that life here is not forever will be lacking. It will not lead to true happiness because it is not based on the truth. My encouragement to us all is to live each day understanding how precious and short life is and to be sure our plans and activities properly value those people and causes that we truly care about. These need to all be included in our plans and stories.

See you in 2013.

Unless I don’t.

Graduation Stories

Today we are attending the college graduation of our niece, Amy, who crosses a threshold into the rest of her life. Any kind of graduation marks a potential turning-point for people. It is the completion of a defined phase of education or training that was begun because it held a certain promise of a better future.

As these graduates today listen to the commencement address and walk across the stage to get their diplomas, they will be reflecting on the hard work of the past four years and thinking about the future. Some of them already have jobs lined up, while others see little hope for a good job. Regardless of where they find themselves in the job market, they are all in need of a plan – a strategy. They need a narrative for the future. Hopefully they will not view today as the end of education, but rather as the beginning of their life-long commitment to learning and improvement. All of us need such a plan, whether we went to college or not.

It is my hope that Amy and her fellow graduates will design a powerful narrative for their futures, a Forward Story, to help guide the paths they take and to fulfill their highest and best ambitions.

Congratulations, Amy!

Matt, “you got next.”

Mind-Mapping the Nearer Term – Adding Age 25

In our last article our 18 year-old John completed his mind map for the time-frame 12 years down the road when he is 30 years old. He put in writing in his mind map his various dreams and goals across three areas – family, career, and personal. However, there is a large gap between where John is right now at 18 and where he wants to be when he is 30. Now comes a crucial step for John. He must answer the question, “How do I get there from here?”

When we introduced John in this series we identified the time-frames that he will plan for. The exact time-frames are flexible and can be defined as John desires. The most important thing is that these time windows make sense to the person creating the mind map – in this case John. Here is the mind map we laid out for John: (all images will enlarge when clicked)

With his age 30 mind-map completed, the next time-frame for John is the next seven years. At the end of that window he will be 25 years old. This period is exactly five years before the age 30 period he has already completed. With each new time period, John has to review the plans he has already written to make sure that what he plans in this new time-frame truly enables him to accomplish what he has already written in his longer time-frames. For example:

  • Family. John wants to be living near his parents when he is 30 in order to be able to take care of them. The likelihood of that happening will depend in large part on John’s decisions by age 25. He has to make sure that this new time-frame takes location into account.
  • Career. John said that when he is 30 he will be in his 7th year of work as an engineer. In order for this to happen, John needs to have already been an engineer for two years by the time he is 25. If he were now to write that by age 25 he wants to start his first job as an engineer, there is no way he will be in his 7th year of work when he is 30. This is why he must review what he has already written.
  • Personal. Since John wants to be under 190 pounds by the time he is 30, he will want to make sure he is setting a realistic goal for his age 25 time-frame with regard to his weight and health. If he does not pay attention to his weight and instead gains weight in his early to mid twenties, John may have weight problem to deal with when he is 30.

In this way John reviews what is already planned in longer time-frames and begins to write a coherent plan for the shorter time-frames. It is important to note that John’s already completed age 30 plan is not chiseled in stone. In working on an earlier time-frame he may discover that something he has written for age 30 cannot be accomplished by that time. OR he may determine that he has been too conservative and that he can really accomplish more in that more distant period. In either case he will need to go back to age 30 and make changes so that his plan has a realistic shot of success. In this way, the entire process is really an iterative process. That is, it will likely take several iterations (or repetitions) to develop a coherent plan.

Back to Age 25

After reviewing his age 30 mind map, John will now begin writing for age 25 across all three realms. Here is the blank template for age 25 with the familiar fields to guide John in his planning.

Since John has already completed his more distant time-frame, he can more easily step back in time and create his goals:

Family

  • Family Status: Mom & Dad 62, Steve 27, Jane 24, Kate 20
  • If we are not already living near Mom & Dad, we will look for career opportunities to move closer.
  • Steve may have children by this time, and it is important to me to be a good uncle to my nieces and nephews. This is true even if we do not live near one another.
  • I will have contributed my love and help to Jane and will have a healthy, supportive relationship with her as an older brother. I will maintain healthy boundaries.
  • I will continue my strong relationship with Kate and assist her in whatever ways she needs me.
  • I may be an uncle to Jane and/or Kate’s children at this point. As with Steve’s, I will invest in these nieces and nephews and be a wonderful uncle to them.
  • Robin and I will be celebrating our third anniversary.
  • I will support her in her career, life, and interests.
  • I will spend quality time with her and work seriously on making our marriage great. I will invest in us.
  • We may have children by this time. I will take fatherhood seriously and will look out for the well-being of them all.

In reviewing his age 30 map, John notices that he failed to say anything about his in-laws in what he wrote about family. He address this now in the new time-frame by writing:

  • I will make it easy for Robin and the kids to spend time with her parents.
  • I will look for ways to help Robin’s parents.

Also, now that John has identified this oversight from the age 30 plan, he will go back to that age 30 map and add his thinking about his in-laws.

Career

  • I will be in my 2nd year of work as an engineer.
  • I will establish a reputation as a person with a strong work ethic.
  • I will cultivate relationships with engineers I admire in order to learn from them and grow my network.
  • I will look for and participate in continuing education opportunities.
  • I will earn at least $60,000 per year.
  • We will practice wise budgeting and will pay off all student loan debt.

Personal

Body/Health

  • I will keep my weight under 190 pounds.
  • I will play tennis and walk regularly.
  • I will eat a healthy diet, and continually educate myself about the latest in nutritional science.
  • I will get annual physicals from my doctor.

Fun

  • I will take guitar lessons and review the fundamentals of music.
  • I will play in at least one charity golf tournaments each year for fun and to support good causes.
  • I will hunt annually with my Dad and brother.

The World

  • I will explore various charities and volunteer my time to determine the place I am most passionate about serving.
  • I will explore the mentoring a young person through Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
  • I will financially support humanitarian relief efforts through world-class charities.
  • I will vote in local, state, and national elections as an exercise of my civic duty and of patriotic gratitude.

Spiritual

  • I will continue to learn and explore my own spiritual nature and the nature of God.
  • I will focus on my spiritual journey with my wife and grow along with her.
  • I will explore and identify a good group of people/church to belong to and to do spiritual work with.
  • I will strive to be consistent in my religious beliefs and allow them to guide my actions in work and personal life.

Here is all of this information in the mind map for age 25:

When both the age 25 and age 30 map are included, here is John’s map. Remember, this image will enlarge:

Now that we have gone through two different time-frames for John we can begin to understand the process for doing a complete mind map. I think you will agree that it is actually hard work. We have not even completed John’s plan yet for his two closest time-frames. One thing that will emerge as we look to the closer time-frames is that the specific goals will become more like tasks as he begins to realize actions he will need to take to make his longer vision a reality. In our next article we will examine how the closest time-frames will drive John’s actions.

How To Incorporate Family Into Your Mind Map

In our last article we helped 18 year-old John use a mind map to focus in on his plans when he is 30. We said that in this timeframe John needs to do a lot of thinking about several areas of his life: Family, Personal, and Career.

NOTE: All images will enlarge when clicked.

Now let’s examine the Family realm more closely for John when he is 30.

As with all of us, family is important to John. Like a fingerprint, each family situation is unique, and John’s is not exactly like yours or mine. Let’s lay out some facts about John’s current family situation:

  • He is single, but in a serious relationship with Robin.
  • His parents are both still living and are 55 years old. His father has had serious health problems with his heart.
  • He has an older brother named Steve who is 20 and two younger sisters Jane, age 17, and Kate, age 13.
  • 17 year-old Jane has dropped out of school and has a drug problem.

John has no crystal ball, but he knows how old they will all be if everyone is still living in twelve years. His “Family Status” at that point will include the fact that his parents will be 67 years old. His brother will be 32. He will be 30. His sisters will be 29 and 25. There is value in simply listing these ages as facts in his family status:

These facts alone will spur John into some serious thinking about what he may want to be doing in twelve years as part of this family:

  • I will be living near Mom & Dad to help with Dad’s medical needs and to support Mom.
  • Steve may have children by this time, and it is important to me to be a good uncle to my nieces and nephews. This is true even if we do not live near one another.
  • I will have contributed my love and help to Jane and will have a healthy, supportive relationship with her as an older brother. I will maintain healthy boundaries.
  • I will continue my strong relationship with Kate and assist her in whatever ways she needs me.
  • I may be an uncle to Jane and/or Kate’s children at this point. As with Steve’s, I will invest in these nieces and nephews and be a wonderful uncle to them.

In addition to family status, John wants to include his relationship with Robin. They have been dating for two years and think they want to be married. In this mind map dealing with his life at age 30, John is assuming that he and Robin have been married for eight years. In regard to Robin, John thinks the following:

  • I will be Robin’s champion to support her in her career, life, and interests.
  • I will spend quality time with her and work seriously on making our marriage great. I will invest in us.
  • We may have children by this time. I will take fatherhood seriously and will look out for the well-being of them all.

In addition to these statements of purpose with regard to his family, John might include his grandparents, in-laws, and extended family. He is tying in to his deepest values about the people he loves and determining what he hopes to be doing with these people. He is creating a narrative about what his life will look like at age 30. What will happen to these people if John makes no plan? His parents, siblings, and Robin will still be 12 years older. John will still be 30 at that time. It’s just that if he has had no plan and has not thought seriously about the family realm, he may have regrets when he gets to that stage.

In her commencement address to the Spelman College graduating class of 2012, Oprah Winfrey said:

You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the path, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go. What I learned is that that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat on your own life because if you are not, life will drive you.

John has decided to drive his own life instead of being driven by his life. What about you?

In our next article we will focus on the realm we are calling Career.

Today I’m 50 – Now What? Maybe Write a Book!

I recall as a kid being really excited about birthdays. What was not to love? My friends and family made a big deal out the fact that on that date some number of years before, I made my exit from one environment into another. I was the center of attention on that day each year. There were presents, there was cash, there were games, there was singing, and best of all, there was cake. Let them eat cake! What a great thing.

At some point in my adolescence I stopped getting so excited about birthdays. As an adult I observed the annual ritual with indifference as the various milestones clicked past like so many center stripes on a long road trip.

  • At 30 I remember feeling like a “real” adult.
  • At 40 I felt like I had gained some wisdom.
  • Now that I am 50, what do I think? What am I feeling?

According to the United Nations, the average life expectancy of an American male is 75.6 years. What does this mean to me?

  • The hypochondriac in me says that there are a lot of things that will probably get me well before 75.6.
  • The optimist in me says that I will live to be 100.
  • The realist in me says that this means I only have around 25.6 years left. Unless, of course, the Mayans are right (but that’s another story).

Which will it be? I have no crystal ball, so I have no idea. I am not losing sleep over it, either.

I began this blog on July 20,2010 with an initial post on narrative. Before now I have never promoted the blog. I have told a few people about it, and a few more have stumbled upon it, but I have not sought widespread readership. In the past 20 months I have written on a variety of topics all revolving around the idea that all people should be working on a story that looks forward, into the future. I call it a Forward Story.

As I celebrate my half century on the planet today I am taking the wraps off my plan to publish my first book in 2012 entitled Forward Story. While I have been sporadically writing the blog, I have also been working on the book. In writing style the book will be specifically targeted to young people up to their mid-20s, but it will have something to say to all of us, including those 50 and above. The fact is that regardless of your age, you need to have a story for where you are headed. Writing the book Forward Story has been a part of my personal Forward Story for a while now. This is the year to launch it.

This website will be the primary place to keep informed about the book. Feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed or otherwise bookmark forwardstory.com. You can also follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/forward_story The exact timeframe for publication is not set, but I am committed to publication before the end of the year. In the meantime, feel free to poke around the site and join in the conversation.

Regardless of how many candles you will find on your cake this year, I hope you are writing a beautiful and meaningful Forward Story. Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

An Update: It took a lot longer than I hoped, but the book has arrived. You can get your copy here:


Forward Story: Write the Future You Desire

 

Repetition & Learning

Repetition is boring for most people. If we hear something over and over again, it gets annoying. Think of your least favorite television commercial and how you feel when it is repeated over and over again during a program or game you are watching. It can be like dripping water.

The same can be said for learning information. Once you have learned how to add 2 + 2, you are ready to move on to something more challenging. If your teacher began each lesson with how to add 2 + 2, it would become very tiring. Let’s move on to subtraction or multiplication.

For all we can say negatively about repetition, however, we have to admit it works. Advertisers know that even if you get annoyed at their ad that runs ten times during the game, chances are you will remember them when buying-time comes around. The guitar player knows that repeated practice hour after hour will lead to competence and fluidity in performance. The tennis player hits forehand after forehand after forehand. Why? Because repetition builds memory — in this case muscle-memory. Of course, it is important to repeat effective behaviors to avoid building bad habits. It is likewise important to learn accurate information in order to avoid believing what is false.

I have discovered that the more complicated a subject is, the more repetition I need in order to really get it. This is the reason medical school is not one semester long. It is the reason law school takes three years. It is the reason that becoming a master electrician is no walk in the park. Before I take a new medicine that my doctor has prescribed for me, I want to know that she really understands the anatomy of the human body, the chemistry of the drug, and why it is going to help me. I trust that she repetitively learned all she needed to learn to be competent to prescribe this medicine.

It takes patience and energy to learn via repetition. There is a biological function occurring as we learn. The brain is stashing information collected from our entire sensory system into various places for future access. The more complicated or unconventional the information, the more repetition is required. I have to give this biology time to work.

Two examples:

  • When I am learning how to effectively manage my personal finances I know that conventional wisdom will not help me. How do I know this? Most people are broke. What is “normal” is not working. To learn a more effective way of handling money requires repetition of some better way. This more effective way is not part of my cultural common sense, so I have to purposely and repetitiously learn this better way. If I stop listening to and learning the better way, I will fall back into the culture’s way, which I get through being part of the culture. As a matter of fact, the way I learned that cultural way of thinking and action about money came about through years and years of…repetition. I am only going to replace that way of doing things with something better if I use the same process — repetition. For me this means podcasts, blogs, books, and conversations with other weird people who are also repetitively learning a better way.
  • I am an American, and like many Americans I have struggled with my body weight. As with personal finances, what is normal in our culture is not what I desire. I desire to be healthy and thin. I desire to avoid the many negative health outcomes of being “normal.” How does a person break away from the cultural norm to begin eating in a different way and to get healthier? The answer is repetition. How many food messages does our culture (and agribusiness) repeat to us each day? That onslaught of information cannot be counteracted once and for all. It has to be counteracted continually and repetitively. Again, for me the repetition takes the form of books, blogs, podcasts, and conversations.

Whatever we want to learn is going to require energy. Our capacity to learn is rooted in language, which along with our large brains is our great advantage over the animal kingdom. We just have to be committed to learning the right things and be willing to put in the work required to make that knowledge an effective force in our lives. This is the reason that life-long learning should be an important part of your Forward Story and mine.