The Octogenarian Challenge | #165
December 18th, 2021: Greetings from NYC. I’ll be off until January 8th, though I may end up doing a year-end reflection in the second half of the Christmas break. Hopefully, when I return, I am closer to the book launch. Stay tuned!
If you missed the link last week and are in a company leading corporate culture or learning & development, you should definitely check out my friend Andrew Barry’s “The Learning Culture Experience” - here is $200 off.
The Octogenarian Challenge
One of the biggest challenges on any sort of pathless path is deciding what to do and where to aim your efforts. This is one advantage of a default path, less decisions to make.
One approach is to abandon any hope that I could possibly figure out an “ideal” path and to turn the question upside down. This is often called “inversion” or as Shane Parrish puts it, “The Power to Avoid Stupidity.” So in the case of figuring out what to do with your life, you would articulate what a miserable life looks like. Then you work backward to determine which behaviors might help you increase the odds of arriving at such a dreaded state. From there, you have to take the hardest step: looking at your current life and being honest about which of those behaviors you are already exhibiting.
The reason this can be so effective is that we are often undermining our own stated desires. By getting out of our own way, we create space for the possibility to emerge.
I stumbled on another way to think about this problem while taking a walk with Chris Wong in Central Park this week (side note: he wrote this amazing essay called “The Path” which is definitely worth reading. Also please send him a note telling him to write more. He’s good right?).
We were talking about my approach to inversion when he mentioned Peter Attia’s “Centenarian Challenge” mental model of thinking about longevity. His idea is that people should start with the ambitious goal of being a healthy 100-year-old. From there, he lists a number of physical feats that this centenarian would be able to perform. For example:
Get up off the floor with his support.
Pull himself out of a pool.
Pick up a child that’s running at him.
Walk up and down three flights of stairs with 10 lbs. of groceries in each hand.
Lift a 30 lb. suitcase and put it in the overhead bin
From there, you work backward and determine what that means you’d need to do at 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, and so on… to be on track to reach that goal.
I love this because what Peter Attia is really doing is rejecting the default belief that so many people hold, that old means not physically capable. In addition, he’s also creating an interesting game for himself. Even if he is completely wrong, at least he’s created an interesting way to experiment in his life while also doing research he’s already interested in and building a life around.
So I thought, why not turn this into a similar thing for life on a pathless path? You can take Attia’s focus on fitness and make it even broader?
What does it look like if I’m still fully engaged with life at 80?
For me, here are a number of things I’d like to still be doing:
Actively learning from people much younger than me
Taking at least one online or in-person class every six months
Still actively teaching something to people I know
Have conversations with most people without making cynical or pessimistic comments
Writing something at least once a week, privately or publicly
Walking at least 2 miles every day
Be as strong as Peter Attia thinks is possible
From there I can work backward and then say at 70, what should I be doing, all the way to my current age, 36. Right now I feel like I’m doing a decent job on the work/life side but I also expect staying the course will get a lot harder as I age.
This approach is an alternative to the more abstracted approach of the default path, which looks at life as a stage of work followed by a stage of non-work, or retirement. The hidden benefit is that by tracing back your stated aspirations (which we often don’t do anyway!) to your present state, you have to ask yourself some hard questions about what you are spending your time on now. If you are headed in the right direction, great. If not, you might want to consider making some tweaks.
That’s it for now. I’d love to see anyone’s own version of this or any remixes of the idea. Feel free to leave a comment or let me know what you think!
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