Self-Help: Plan Your Decade, But Don’t Take The Plan Too Seriously

I don’t know if this is too personal, but if you’ve learned anything about me, it’s that I write in a confessional style where everything is shared. Some of this is because I think we live in a world where we have no privacy (hence, why I wrote this book), and some of it is because I believe life is way more interesting this way.

So, I do a lot of reading and research on human interaction and how to improve it. Wouldn’t you believe that so many of our communication failings have everything to do with us hiding things? We spend a lot of time walking on eggshells with one another.

I’m not saying you should swing the pendulum in the other direction and be a selfish asshole, but I do think there’s some happy medium that we can reach. I don’t know what that looks like yet. The whole point of writing these blog posts is to help me in the research and try to figure it out so I can share the useful tidbits with you.

(And like any and all advice you encounter, take the things that work for you and leave the rest behind. You don’t have to take ALL the information and follow it. That would be silly. Self-help advice, like it is in marketing, is entirely situational and will change based on the variables within your own life. So what works for me won’t entirely work for you, but there may be a thing or two along the way that I might share that could be useful, and that’s all I’m going for here.

I am not, nor do I want to be, a self-help guru. I’m just looking to be useful and funny in a way that’ll hopefully help me pay my bills so I can continue being helpful and entertaining to you.

All that said, I want to give you an example from my own life where two ideas that seem to be in total opposition to each other can both be true. This sounds like a simple concept, but we live in a world where people will see you use social media, and then when you say something critical about social media, they’ll say, “Well if you don’t like it, don’t use it.”

If only it were that easy.

Back to the confessional: With one exception, all of the women in my life have been into BDSM, wanting to be dominated in bed. That’s why I made the joke in another post that I’ll treat every woman in my life as a queen … except in the bedroom. I’m the dominant type.

So here we have, on the one hand, a form of fun and sex that, on paper at least, seems regressive concerning how men and women interact with each other.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this argument is correct. BDSM is regressive. I don’t agree with this position, but we’re just going with a hypothetical here.

I’m not Dan Savage. I’m not a sex columnist, and I believe this is one of those arguments that merits people with more experience in those fields to break down, so I’m just going to ask you to hang with me and, as a hypothetical, let’s accept that the argument as true.

On the other hand, all of us, me and the women in my life, are pretty passionate feminists and liberal progressive types who are also ardent in our beliefs about equal treatment for women.

I actually take those beliefs a step further. I think women are smarter than men and should have a turn running things. We’ve already seen the “wonderful” things men have done with their turn at the helm of civilization. Let’s let the women take it from here.

So you might be wondering how those two ideas square with each other. How can you be an ardent feminist but than roleplay something like a superheroine-in-peril scenario where the heroine is bound and taken advantage of? Those two things don’t seem like they fit, right?

The consensus, from the women in my life (as a man, I take a step back, as any good ally should and let them guide the discussion), is that you can be into both things.

One belief doesn’t cancel out the other belief.

Being into BDSM doesn’t make you any less of a feminist. What you practice in the bedroom is between two consenting adults who are just having fun, it doesn’t somehow negate your beliefs about life and how it should be lived for the betterment of society.

You don’t have to agree with this. I’m not trying to convince you. But I’m trying to, I hope, show you that you can hold seemingly oppositional beliefs at the same time.

As Walt Whitman once said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” You all contain multitudes. We’re human; human life is all about contradiction. We’re smart and sophisticated predators, and yet we let lots of food go to waste every day. We’re dependent on our environment, and we do little to protect it. We let technology make decisions for us, but those decisions (made by algorithms) are usually tainted in some way with our own biases and assumptions programmed into them.

Put another way; you don’t have to be a dog or cat person. You can be a dog and cat person. One doesn’t somehow cancel out the other.

I tend to like using pro wrestling as a teaching tool, so think of it like this: Pro wrestling is both real and fake at the same time.

What you’re watching in the ring is a live-action comic book featuring two characters that are not real. Diamante, who I’m a huge fan of, isn’t going to go and fuck up your car after the show because she’s a badass. The Diamante character exists only within the arena where the ring and the fans are. The character is part of the show.

But at the same time, you’re also watching two attractive humans putting on a coordinated athletic performance that’s no different than ballet unless you want to be a snob about it. Wrestling is two things at once. A live fictional performance no different than theater AND an athletic competition involving real people doing high-risk maneuvers that could get them hurt without the proper coordination of their partner in the ring.

All of this is a long way of saying, I have some advice that seems to act in direct contradiction to one another, but like wrestling, this is not the case:


Advice #1 Plan Your Decade

This isn’t an original idea, but I do think you should plan your decades. The odds are good that most of you reading this are going to live a long time, longer than most humans that have come before you, and a lot can change in ten years. It’s entirely possible to pack a lifetime of change and experience into a decade. And so for that reason, I think it makes a lot of sense to have a plan for yourself over the next ten years, but not much further.

For me, 2001 to 2011 was all about becoming a professional writer. It started at a leadership retreat at Alfred State College in the Fall of 2001 where we had to do this exercise to introduce ourselves ten years from that very moment. So I said I was a New York Times Best Selling author. Now, I haven’t quite broken the New York Times list (I’m working on it), but I am a published author with a book that did pretty well given its total lack of budget, a media blackout, and nobody has any real clue about who I am.

And in that ten-year window, wouldn’t you know it, I signed my first book deal with St. Martin’s Press in the Fall of 2011. Ten years almost to the date I said I was going to be a published author.

In the intervening years, a lot happened. I went to college, transferred to another college, had a public access television show, got married, went on a cross-country breast cancer awareness tour, lived through The Great Recession at my in-laws home, traveled up and down the east coast doing stand-up comedy, became the first, and youngest, current student in the history of the State University of New York system to create and endow a scholarship, almost had a baby, moved to Albany, moved to Glens Falls, moved to Potsdam, worked on a syndicated television show, had a syndicated column through CBS College Sports, took the LSAT thinking I was going to be a lawyer, wrote webcomics, had multiple humor columns “go viral”, worked as a mall Santa, saw my cat get involved with a 2007 Presidential debate (true story), and the list goes on and on and on, but you get the point here.

Ten years is a very long time. A lot can happen. A lot will happen.

But let me tell you what else I did in those ten years. I read everything there was to read about writing non-fiction books. I read multiple books on how to write a book proposal. How to market a book. How to write in general. How to edit one. Anything that I could pick up, watch, or listen to, that helped me get to my goal of having a published book in ten years I invested in. Career-wise, it was my only focus: Getting a book published by a major publisher.

And during that time, I also did a ton of writing. I was writing blog posts, scripts, webcomics, you name it, I was doing it. Because like a lot of things in life, if you want to be good at something, you have to keep doing it. There’s no magic formula. No shortcut. None of that shit. It’s just putting the time in over and over and over and over.

Now you might be wondering why I say ten years. Why not twenty? Shit, why not 50? Well, the truth is humans are really bad at predicting the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone next week, let alone a year from now. So I think ten years is safe. It’s not too far off into the future, but it’s far enough away where there’s plenty of time to commit to the thing you want to do and put the work in.

Using pro wrestling again as an example, look at where Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were at the start of their career versus ten years later. Both started in tag teams and, ten years later, headlined Wrestlemania. (Hart in ’93, Michaels in ’96, but started getting treated as a main eventer in ’94.)

Look at AJ Styles ten years ago in TNA and where he is right now in WWE. Do I need to say more than “Claire Lynch” to wrestling fans?

Wrestling is where I first came to the ten-year number. I know others have said “plan your decade,” but it wasn’t tangible to me until I saw it play out in the world of pro wrestling.

It seems like it takes ten years from whenever someone is starting to get to the top of what they’re doing. (Trish Stratus and Lita are also great examples. Remember, Trish began her career as a manager and wasn’t particularly great at wrestling until much later on.)

Thomas Edison had some significant flaws as a person, but he wasn’t wrong when he said that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Now here is where I go and contradict what I just said …

Advice #2 You Could Be Dead Tomorrow

I’m a big Alan Watts fan. He described himself as a stand-up philosopher. You can catch a lot of his stuff on YouTube. I have an Audible book that collects a lot of his lectures, and in the middle of one of them he stops and points out something I think is critically important.

As he’s giving one of his lectures, Watts points to someone in the audience and says, “You could be dead tomorrow.” He wasn’t being morbid. He was pointing out that you don’t have total control over the human experience. You can have this elaborate ten-year plan, but it might not matter. I almost died. I know what he’s saying.

So you see the contradiction already. “Plan your decade” doesn’t seem to go very well with “You could be dead tomorrow,” you know?

Watts wasn’t looking to discourage anyone from having a plan. What he was saying was you could undoubtedly go about your business and work on the things you want to work on, but you shouldn’t (and really can’t) take them too seriously because it can all be gone tomorrow.

I’m of the belief that when it comes to your life, you control half of it. No more. No less. 50%.

That other half is the crazy random shit that can happen that keeps you on your toes. Like when a chicken truck in front of you explodes; and the Interstate has to be shut down for days because it turns out these chickens are invulnerable AND STILL ON FIRE. And those chickens are now all over the fucking place lighting cars on fire by running under them and just being a nuisance, and you’re then stuck in traffic for hours while the government has to call in a particular team with a particular set of skills just to clean up the mess the chickens made.

Or, you know, when you hurt your back just by walking two miles. Or when a tree falls on your car.

You get the idea.

Stuff like that can and will happen to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

My favorite example is from the show “Dead Like Me” where the lead character is killed by a flaming toilet seat that fell out of the sky from a space station. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been terrified of falling space garbage ever since.

So, that to me is what Watts is getting at. That 50% you don’t control. You can have your plan, but you’re going to have to deal with shit you didn’t plan for.

This is pretty essential life advice, and we don’t often stop to think about it.

So I think it’s vital we all acknowledge that there’s stuff outside your control and there’s nothing you can do about any of it. That also means there’s absolutely no reason to stress or even think about those things because there’s nothing you can do about them.

That said, I don’t want this to translate into “Don’t plan your decade because you’ll be dead tomorrow.”

I’m not saying that at all.

These two things do not cancel each other out. They might contradict each other, but both are equally true. You should plan your decade, but you also have to acknowledge that this plan can all end for you tomorrow. The plan involves the 50% you do control, the universe controls the 50% you don’t.

Squaring those things can be hard. I’m not saying I have this down entirely because there are days where I want to delete everything I wrote and say “Why bother?” but that’s no way to live your life.

Life is defined by the challenges you face and how you conquer them. If you accept that as accurate, then you should continue on your way and try to accomplish everything you planned for, regardless of what the universe has in mind.


Photo Credit: Mike Kalasnik/Flickr