Make 2017 Your Best Year: Act 1

Will 2017 be extraordinary or extra-ordinary?

2017: Do More or More of the Same?

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I recently heard two opposing views. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on 60 Minutes recently discussing his Broadway musical, Hamilton. He said that he and Alexander Hamilton share the view that tomorrow is not a given, so get as much done as you can today. And they certainly did do a lot.

  • Miranda has written and performed in In the Heights, Hamilton, Sesame Street, and the soundtrack to the Disney movie, Moana. He hosted Saturday Night Live and performed at the White House. He’s collected Tony awards, Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy, and a MacArthur Genius Fellowship.
  • Hamilton—the man—wasn’t too shabby either. He founded the U.S. financial system, the Federalist Party, the U.S. Coast Guard, the New York Post, and the Bank of New York. He was also a war hero and the first Secretary of the Treasury. As a teenager, his 35 page essay defending the First Continental Congress (an organized response to the Boston Tea Party), written in 2-3 weeks, was published. When it was rebutted, he countered with an 80 page essay. He wrote 51 of the 85 Federalist Essays that ratified the U.S. Constitution. As Miranda describes him, Hamilton wrote as if he was running out of time.

I also listened to the 12/23/16 episode of the podcast TED Radio Hour exploring the topic of Believers and Doubters In it, Devdutt Pattanaik tells the story of when Alexander the Great encountered a gymnosophist (also known as a “naked wise man” who kinda did nothing as their “thing”) staring at the sky. Alexander asked him what he was doing.

“I’m experiencing nothingness.”

Then the gymnosophist asked Alexander the same.

“I’m conquering the world.”

They both laughed, thinking the other one was a fool. Alexander the Great was of one mind with Miranda and Hamilton: there is only today. The gymnosophist, by contrast, believed that we had infinite lives. Pattanaik goes on to say that the denominator of Alexander’s life was 1, so that all of his achievements (the numerator) would result in a great number. However, the denominator of the gymnosophist’s life was infinity, so that no matter what he did, his achievements would result in zero. So why bother?

Two things we learn: 1) People named Alexander are badasses… and 2) What you do today depends on what you believe about tomorrow.

If you’re reading this, I know which one of the two views you prefer.

 

4 Suggestions to Make 2017 Your Most Productive

1. Surround Yourself with Mirandas, Alexanders, and Franklins. This is what makes attending a competitive college transformational, and what makes living in New York or San Francisco energizing: joining a community of achievers. Don’t have friends like that? You can either plug into a group or, if one doesn’t exist, do what Hamilton and Ben Franklin did and start a club yourself. This year, I’m going to start or join an entrepreneurship club.

Short on time? Try listening to podcasts. I have a large rotation of podcasts, but the ones that inspire me to do are How I Built This, Mixergy, Smart Passive Income, EO Fire, My Wife Quit Her Job, and StartUp. Each have a different style and function for me—some I listen to for inspiration, others for instruction. There’s enough podcasts out there that you’ll find one that works for you.

2. Read Books About Great People or Great Ideas. Did you know that those people who lived lives worth reading about were themselves voracious readers? They always quenched their minds with books because of their thirst to learn and improve. Hamilton read every book he could get his hands on. Franklin revered books so much and their ability to raise societies that he created the first public library. Franklin said, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”

I have 4 primary categories of reading:

  1. Thick, grand biographies of inspiring people. Apparently, George Washington was an avid reader of biographies—the greats have always stimulated future greats. This year, I’m reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
  2. Books with interesting ideas. These are parenting books, or Malcolm Gladwell-ish books. This year, I’m reading Originals by Adam Grant, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, The Seventh Sense by Joshua Cooper Ramo, Make Your Own Luck by Eileen C. Shapiro and Howard H. Stevenson, Grit by Angela Duckworth, Living Life While Squeezing Lemons by JoLeisa Creed, and Word by Word by Kory Stamper (who has graciously agreed to do a Q&A on JMC!)
  3. Long-form articles from The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic, or The New York Times Magazine.
  4. Blogs. Yes, I actually read other blogs—regularly. I listed some of the ones I read here and will be doing a blog roundup in the future.

3. Exercise. My journey toward achieving more started in 2015. Not only did I start reading more, I started running. I find that when you align the action of your body with the intent of your mind, things happen. Sometimes really cool things. That year, I raised myself and took on the work responsibility equal to 3-4 people, joined 2 boards of directors, officiated a weddingstarted doing some personal financial coaching—all while staying active in my church, being a husband to my amazing wife, and being present for my 3 wonderful children. (In 2016, I added completing a Tough Mudder and starting Just Making Cents). My newfound gusto was powered by my commitment to exercise (I could jayrun with a nimbleness not seen since college!). It’s tough to be productive when your body feels slothful. (Productivity tip: Listen to podcasts while you run.)

4. Pick Up a New Skill. Make your brain sweat by learning something new. It could be taking up a hobby like an instrument or painting. It can be a course that you take online. Or it can be work related. I’ll cover this more in Act 2.

When you make a habit of achieving, your extraordinary becomes extra ordinary.

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A Third View:

What if there is a promised future? Does that make us lazy and inefficient? Turns out there’s a third view.

Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the British West Indies. His father deserted the family when he was a child and his mother died when he was 13. After showing some promise as a writer and in trade, the local townspeople collected money to send him to the American colonies to further his education in hopes that he would return a doctor.

He received the gift of new life, and so have we.  Hamilton surely understood that every new day, he was living out of that gift. So he made every moment count. When you view your life as a gift and not an entitlement, your days take on a different meaning.  We are like prisoners set free; cancer patients cured.

Between the now and then, the here and there, of today and the promised future glory, is an opportunity to be productive citizens.

As long as there still is a today, you have a shot to do good for others. Go—there is yet much to be done.

As Miranda’s Hamilton would say, “Do not throw away your shot!”

 

4 Comments

  • TeeFell January 3, 2017 at 8:31 am

    JMC how do you, as a man of God, reconcile the idea of being so focused on “today” vs the eternal concept of heavenly salvation? Why is it important to achieve such financial success when such pursuits are so contrary to the teachings of the church and Christ?

    As a man of both financial sophistication and a man of religion, what tips the scales towards the “today” if the Eternal is already predetermined?

    Reply
    • JT January 3, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Great questions, Teefell! These are wonderful tensions you’ve identified and I hope to provide some clear thinking:
      •Why care about today when there is an eternal promise? Why try to do good now when the eternity is going to be awesome? That’s sort of the mindset of the gymnosophist, which I don’t agree with. Neither do I agree with Alexander the Great’s approach which is to get as much glory for yourself today. This is why I gave my 3rd view, which is more akin to being a prisoner set free or like someone cured of cancer: every new day is a gift, so do something with it that helps others. I gave you the long answer, now here’s the short one: because Jesus did it. He could’ve come to announce the good news of salvation and mic dropped. But in between, he made the blind see and the lame walk.
      •Financial success and its contrariness to Christ: I don’t believe desiring financial success or having it is contrary to Christ. I believe that it’s actually faithful to make sure you are as fiscally responsible with the financial resources given to you. All of our resources are a gift. So if you have been given not only the talents and circumstance that have led to your financial success, to recognize the giver and invest in helping others (back to my first point about today vs tomorrow). I want to make as much money as I can so that I can invest it back into helping solve the problems that have moved me (childhood cancer, urban education, and more).

      Reply
  • CBW January 7, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Super helpful post. #1 and #2 are particularly compelling. Thanks, JMC!

    Reply
    • JT January 8, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for your comment, CBW! Let us know how #1 and #2 work out for you this new year!

      Reply

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