Let’s say you live a 100-year life. Wow! Aren’t you lucky? That’s a long time. What will you do with all those years?
Let’s try to get some perspective. Imagine ten boxes. Like the following image:
Every box represents ten years of your life.
The first box is age 0-10, the second is 10-20, and so on. Let that sink in for a second.
Each box is a decade. That too is a long time – which is why people often underestimate how much they can do in one.
But it also takes that kind of time to find greatness. Want to be a great dad? That might take ten years. Climb up the corporate ladder? Well, most executives aren’t 25. Hoping to succeed as a creative? That’s at least one box.
Thinking of your life in 10-year projects has a lot of benefits. You can’t help but take the long view. Your expectations won’t be as high. It’s easier to be patient.
But how will you fill those boxes?
Well, you can hardly do anything on your own in the first and may still live with your parents all through the second. Those are just growing up. So let’s kill the first two.
Then again, who really has their life figured out by the time they turn 30? Aren’t your 20s supposed to be fun? Physically, we might be grown-ups now, but, really, our path of soul-searching has just begun.
So let’s cross that one out too.
Okay. Awesome. 30-40. This is where the game really starts. You’re planted firmly on the ground, committed to your ideals, relationships, and projects, and you know what to do.
But, now that I think about it, what’s with the end of the spectrum? I mean, you definitely won’t have the same energy at 90 that you have at 30. You can’t keep burning like a meteor right until you kick the bucket. Especially if you live to be 100.
So, actually, we can kinda cross out those last two boxes as well. You need some time for retirement, slowing down, and reminiscing about your greatest hits, after all!
Okay, that’s it. Done and dusted. Great job! But…hold on. Wait a minute. Hey! Hey!!
Those aren’t that many boxes!
There’s only five of them left! What the…? That’s not fair! Where’d my 100 years go?
That’s life! This is the final result. Yes. This. This is what it looks like.
This is your life in decades.
Like everything with momentum, it takes a while to get going and it slows down before it stops. That’s normal. And it plays out for everyone the same way.
But that also means we really do have less time than we think.
No matter how many of those middle boxes you get, those will be the most productive and fruitful years of your life. But you can only spend them on so many things.
You only get 3-5 of those 10-year projects. Choose carefully. Make sure you think.
You can do a lot in ten years. But you don’t have many 10-year stretches. Before you know it, another box is gone.
“The days are long but the decades are short.”
So how do you not waste a single one? You remember all of this in a single line. Sam Altman shared it in an essay he wrote on his – 30th birthday: