Editor's note: This article is adapted from the author's book "The Power of Starting Something Stupid."
I've had the unique privilege of interviewing hundreds of people about their goals and dreams. I've tried to learn what works and what doesn't work for people when it comes to achieving high aspirations.
Interestingly (yet not surprisingly), there are common ways that help people go from where they are to where they want to be. Drawing from these interviews and my own personal experience, and based on additional years of research, here are three ways to avoid regret and to make this year your year.
1. Save your money, not your dreams.
“Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first. Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for re-election because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: ‘No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office.’”— Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
As president of a financial services company, I spent several years working in the world of tax-deferred retirement consulting. I met with hundreds of individuals and couples, many in the golden years of life. As the years rolled by, these individuals began to realize that they’d deferred more than their taxes; they’d deferred their lives.
Many of my clients had tragically given in to the notion that waiting was the wisest course of action: “When I have more money, I’ll finally _________,” or “When I retire, I’ll be able to _________.” The common conversation in these meetings was, “When I’m 65 — but hopefully sooner — I will be able to relax, travel, donate to charity, spend time with my family and give my time to the causes I care about. I will finally live the dreams I’ve waited for and worked my whole life to live.”
They prepared. They worked hard. They invested time and resources. Then they waited, for years, only to discover that life at the end of the retirement rainbow wasn’t exactly what they thought it would be. Sometimes a spouse had passed away. Sometimes their health had declined. The stock market had taken an unexpected downturn, and many of them didn’t have the money they’d expected to have (and on and on and on).
The ability to retire is great. The unintended consequenceof retirement planning, however, is that while people plan for future financial savings and investments (a good thing), they get it all mixed up with saving their dreams for later (a bad thing). Don't confuse retirement planning with planned procrastination.
Save your money, not your dreams!
2. Join the "New Smart" and stop being afraid of looking "stupid."
“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let me whisper a secret directly into your ear: If someone thinks that your ideas, or the changes you want to make or the dreams bubbling up inside of you are stupid, welcome to the club. You’re in the company of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, philanthropists, executives, employees, educators, youth, moms, dads, families, philosophers, mentors and more.
We all want to be smart. We’re scared of failure. Scared of falling behind. Scared of being foolish. Scared of looking stupid. No one wants any of that.
Or do we?
Maybe the smartest people in the world know something we don’t. Maybe they know that in order to be smart, in order to make significant contributions to the world and in order to spur significant change in their own lives, they sometimes have to act on ideas that others might initially perceive as stupid. "Stupid as the New Smart" infers that while an idea may appear to be inherently faulty, the idea is, in reality, sound and in your best interest to pursue.
Consider what I like to call "the three T's of stupidity": the telephone, the Model T and Twitter — all ideas that were once considered crazy, foolish or stupid that turned out to change the way we live. The New Smart is not inherently stupid. Rather, these ideas are simply labeled as such by yourself or others due to doubt, fear, confusion or lack of understanding.
The New Smart is highly creative, counterintuitive, innovative, beyond our comfort zone, making change, unconventional, leaning into fear, pushing through less-than-ideal circumstances, turning down the volume on critics and trusting the voice inside your own head. How many ideas, opportunities, businesses and lives are squandered because we mistakenly suppress those so-called “stupid ideas”? We all want to make the best possible decisions in life. Don’t allow life to pass you by because you are afraid of stupid.
Opportunities will come and go, but if you do nothing about them, so will you. Join the New Smart and stop being afraid of looking "stupid."
3. Live "Gavin's Law" and destroy excuses (such as lack of time, education or money).
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E. Frankl, author of "Man’s Search for Meaning"
Very shortly after the death of our son Gavin, my wife, Natalie, and I went to listen to a friend and mentor of mine who was giving a speech at a university near our home in Hawaii. After her presentation, she came to where we were sitting to say hello and to offer her condolences.
After chatting for a few moments, she looked Natalie straight in the eye, and abruptly asked, “So, what have you learned?” Admittedly, I was somewhat taken aback by the intensity of her question. Thankfully, Natalie — always on her toes — offered a gracious, eloquent and genuine response as I stood by, somewhat dumbfounded.
The months passed, but I couldn’t forget this question: “So, what have you learned?” That question changed my life. Suddenly, my life took on a very real sense of urgency. Life, in fact, has a time limit.
Transcendent to the sense of urgency I felt, I found myself face to face with the realization that circumstance was completely outside my realm of control. Not only this particular set of circumstances, but circumstance in general. I suddenly realized that if we are sitting around waiting — maybe even begging and pleading — for our circumstances to change so that we can finally live life the way we really want to live, chances are very good that we will stay stuck waiting forever.
There will always be a million reasons to wait until later. This is simply the nature of the animal called life.
My son Gavin taught me to live, today. I’ve summed up the lesson I learned from the deaths of my brother-in-law and my son into what I call Gavin’s Law:
"Live to start. Start to live."
When you live to start the ideas that press on your mind, you really will start living.
People are innately passionate about certain unique aspects of life. And people are blessed with bouts of clear and concise intuition that drive them toward distinct goals and aspirations within their jobs and their lives as a whole.
Yet many convince themselves not to start their ideas. They convince themselves that they must wait for that elusive day when they’ll finally have enough time (guess what? — you never will), enough education (there is always more to know), enough money (no matter how much you make, someone will always have more). People wait, and they wait, and they wait, until that fateful day when they wake up and realize that while they were sitting around, paying dues, earning their keep and waiting for that elusive “perfect time,” their entire life has passed them by.
There is no greater time than now to start moving toward achieving your goals. Don’t wait. Start stuff. Live to start your stupid ideas, and start to live a life without regret — a life filled with meaning, freedom, happiness, fun, authenticity and influence. After all, now is, in all actuality, the only time you’re truly guaranteed.