Living in Reverse

There is one philosophy of life that says you should do things in a certain order. Here's how the plan goes: go to school, go to more school, work, do more work, and more work, retire, have fun and adventures.


How many people do you meet in life? I started working at a young age and talked with a lot of people about their careers and jobs before I was in my teens. I realized then that "the plan" had a high failure rate.

Before you ever get to do what you want to do you have to run a gauntlet. The odds are that you'll either die on your way to that fun and adventure, or soon after. Even if you make it you won't have the money needed for the road trip that you always wanted to do. Even if you have the money your health probably won't be good enough to hike to the top of that mountain you always wanted to.

Even if you live until retirement, and you have enough money, and you have some health left over, you've been putting off doing what you wanted to do for so long that your brain has wired itself in such a way that you probably won't. You'll probably keep doing something like what you've been doing.

It's common for people to retire and die within a few months. They don't have anything to fill the void. They didn't have any future values established, they had sacrificed those years before. Now, they just gave up the present value that they had to society. Most of the people they knew were coworkers, and they don't see them anymore. They have no reason to live.

I realized this and decided to do a different plan. I wanted to experience what I wanted to experience, and I wanted to do it now. So, I did adventures. At 18 I went skydiving with my graduation money and got my real estate license, at 19 I went mountain climbing, did EMT training, and fell in love. At 20 I did a cross country trip, whitewater rafting, and moved across the country twice. I had a rolling list of things I wanted to do that was always evolving and changing. I kept checking things off, all of these things I wanted to experience. I deeply believed that life was about collecting experiences.

There is some genius in that plan. In 2015, when I was 26, I had a misadventure in Africa. I didn't get better. Complications arose because of several major spinal deformities that I didn't know I had. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to ride horses again, but I already learned how to jump them. I'm not sure I'll be able to scuba dive again, but I already swam through a cloud of jellyfish 30 feet under the water. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to ride a motorcycle again, but I already put 10,000 miles on one in one summer. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to ice luge again, but I've already bruised my ribs slamming into those sideboards. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to run with bulls again, but I've already had one slam me into the gate. The plan worked. The future is uncertain and I planned for that uncertainty by collecting as many life experiences as I could, when I could.

I think this is a much better plan of life. The normal plan only works if you're Benjamin Button. Born as an old man and getting younger with each year. Real life doesn't work like that.

There is a flaw in the plan though. If you do things long enough they become automatic. This applies to your awareness and your valuing processes too. So, if you've repeatedly chosen experiential values over creative values for most of your life then it's going to be hard to transition over to creating something. If you've spent your life collecting experiences then that's built into the circuits in your brain, and it might be hard to make the change to focusing on career. That's what I'm currently navigating.

I was talking with a young guy named Jordan at a business conference recently. He's in his early twenties and has spent several years working on inventing a product that he's now building a business around. The last few years, and the next few years, are almost wholly consumed in this one activity. He noted that he has given up the possibility of the adventures that I've had in his life. I suggested that he would have time later, which may or may not be true. That doesn't really matter though.

The key, no matter how you look at this, is value. You have to make a choice about what you value. If you truly value those things that are adventures and experiences then you should base your life around them, then you'll have done them, no regrets. If you truly value building a company then you should base your life around that. If you truly value raising a family then you should base your life around that. Focus on what you value, for in that shall you find meaning in life.

At some point you'll probably have to make a transition, just as I'm doing now. Jordan knows that in 10 or 15 years he wants to have a family. That will be a transition for him. That's fine, that's great, values change and evolve over a lifetime. Life is the process of valuing, and that process is dynamic. The point is to make the choice.

Which plan of life you choose has to be personal to you. Only you can make that decision because you're the one that is responsible for it, and you're the one that has to live with it. Whatever your decision is, choose value.

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You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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