Friday, January 2, 2015

Long-Term Planning


Centuries - Fall Out Boy*

January 1 has no astronomical significance, and in every world I've built with an alternate calendar they start the new year on the solstice or equinox or something that makes more sense. But the world is path dependent and millennia have endowed January 1 with weight as the start of something new.

The above spiel probably seems as though I am about to launch into a list of my New Year Resolutions. But really, a list of things that I'd like to do is not very helpful. The logbook I set up on Tuesday, if well-designed, should work to guide me to better behaviors than I have previously exhibited. So yes, I am going to talk about goals, but they are not really for this year. I break them down by timespan below.

*Makes more sense to put the music at the beginning of the post, doesn't it?

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An Obnoxious Number of Lists

Shortest Term: Winter Quarter 2015 (3 months -- age 18)
  • master/deeply grok course material
  • actively pursue summer work opportunities
  • read/write/exercise more than last quarter
  • build useful skills (e.g. speaking, coding)

Short Term: rest of freshman year (9 months, to Autumn Quarter 2015 -- age 19)
  • master/deeply grok course material
  • learn German well
  • apply to and get into Berlin study abroad program
  • work over the summer at a job that challenges and interests me
  • continue building good habits and skills
  • finish writing Ubermadchen or at least get close

Medium Term: rest of undergraduate career (42 months, to June 2018 -- age 21)
  • pursue varied but coherent research and work experiences
  • study abroad in Berlin and get really good at German
  • pick up Spanish, brush up my Mandarin
  • write more stories and novels
  • continue mastering course material
  • become supremely competent in civil engineering
  • continue building good habits and skills
  • mentor underclassmen
  • be successful to the degree that "Stanford University" is the least impressive thing on my resume
  • successfully apply to graduate programs
  • get a B.S. in civil engineering
  • start saving for retirement if not already

Medium-Long Term: rest of academic career (66-90 months, to June 2020 or 2022 -- age 23 or 25)
  • carry out interesting, relevant, interdisciplinary research
  • get a foot in industry
  • mentor undergraduates
  • curate my creative practice and keep on writing interesting stories
  • get a M.S. || Ph.D. (?)
  • save for retirement

Long Term: early career (c. 240 months -- age mid-forties)
  • build infrastructure systems (e.g. water, energy, transportation) as part of an international (?) firm
  • work with great people
  • take on more strategic and directional responsibilities
  • share best practices in industry
  • continue to learn, write, and grow
  • maintain good health and friendships/working relationships
  • save aggressively for retirement

Longer Term: peak of career (c. 600 months -- age late sixties)
  • use autonomy and influence to choose projects with lots of leverage for improving the world
  • work with great people
  • help promising individuals attain greater responsibility
  • step into positions of influence that resonate beyond the industry
  • continue to learn, write, grow, and maintain good health/relationships
  • put into place robust, sustainable systems so that the firm for which I work will not fall apart when I step down

Really Long Term: rest of life (??)
  • increase my cross-disciplinary/multisphere influence
  • publish my fiction if I have not done so already
  • continue to learn, write, grow, and maintain good health/relationships
  • retire, with adopted stray cats, to a villa of my own design
And finally:

Super Long Term: my legacy (????)
  • legit infrastructure systems
  • tens (hundreds?) of thousands (millions?) whose lives and economic prospects improved because of my work building infrastructure, increasing awareness of global issues, &c
  • a (probably smaller) number whose lives improve because of my stories
  • dozens of talented people to whom I have been mentor, sounding board, or benefactor

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Commentary

What is the point of making plans for such long time scales?

Studies show that people make more sound financial decisions if they have visualized themselves at an advanced age. The thing is that, even though my future becomes blurrier the farther out from now I go, I know myself well enough to recognize that my vision for my career (early, peak, post) resonates deeply with me even now. I want to be wildly successful. I want to work on systems. I want to help people be able to help themselves. I want to have influence that resonates across many fields.

And I am not there yet. But every step builds on the one before, and yes, maybe things will change drastically between now and then, and no, it won't be the end of the world if my plans do deviate from the pattern laid out here--but still, I know where I want to go, and that knowledge can help me a) decide what actions I should take now and b) keep me motivated by reminding me of what my endgame is. You want to slack off in class? Bad choice, because future you is going to need that physics knowledge when designing that power system. I want to make the right decisions now, put in the work now, so that things work out better for me farther downstream.

Then there is the more egocentric reason: I want future me to be proud of current me. Out of a deep sense of my own importance, I am certain that I will be in leadership and mentorship positions in the future, and I want to be someone, right now, that future me would feel compelled to help. A lot of the time, I look back on past me and feel embarrassed, and I don't want future me to be ashamed of current me. I mess up a lot, and I hope that I will have the compassion to forgive myself and the flexibility of mind to make something good out of the errors. But I also know that there are strategic errors and miscalculations and just plain blunders.

I don't want to look back and think, wow, what a wimp or come on, stand up for yourself already or did you really have to waste that much time? It's probably going to happen, because I am not yet wise, but I'd like to minimize that.

Something else I will probably think is take yourself less seriously, kid. Lighten up a little. But if I keep good friends, then the fun should take care of itself.

Something that is possibly notable by omission is that nowhere in any of those lists is any mention of a family. I have decided that I do not want that burden, and that the fact that I consider the idea of raising a family a burden means that I am psychologically unsuited for such activities. I'll just have to make up for it by being a good aunt.

Another "omission" of sorts is that I don't put much weight on my creative practice in the above lists. This is not to say that I will stop writing, nor that I aim to start publishing when I am in my seventies. Hopefully, that happens sooner. But it goes to show that I need to work to make time for my writing, because my career goes in a different direction. If I build back the habits now, then I stand a chance.

Zooming out and taking a big-picture view, I foresee a couple of turning points. One is smaller, and is mentioned above: the point after which the Stanford name becomes overshadowed by my accomplishments. I want that to happen as early as possible in my undergraduate career. Proud as I am of my school, I know that ability matters more than pedigree.

The other volta is a little more amorphous, and it is the point after which I stop identifying as Octavian and start identifying as Augustus. In more colloquial terms, it is the point where I've "made it," when I have won my empire and now must set it in order. Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra when he was thirty-one; but then, by the time he was my age he was raising a private army to avenge Julius. Thus I have tentatively set the transition from "early" to "peak" career in my forties. If it happens sooner, well, I'll take that.

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Tomorrow I go home from being home, by which I mean I go back to college. It has been a relaxing three weeks of break, lots of time to make up sleep debt and do unproductive things. Now I'm heading back into the ring for another round, round 2 of 12--though I should probably make it out of 15 to count summers after freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

Good luck and strength to us all. Ave!

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