How to Change Your Life in 10 Years

As we speak, Pavel is getting breakfast at the motorway restaurant Pfungstadt Ost, some 30 minutes south of Frankfurt: Rolls, scrambled eggs, bacon, and a fresh cup of steaming hot coffee. After sleeping for six hours last night on his truck – three of which weren’t all that restful due to a party celebrated by a group of Danish colleagues at the parking lot next to him – Pavel’s muscles feel cold and tight. But once the food and the coffee begin to take effect, he is ready to hit the autobahn again.

Two days ago, the current leg of Pavel’s continuing journey across Europe started when 2.800 boxes of oranges were loaded onto his trailer in Valencia, Spain. It will come to an end when he discharges the fruits in Hamburg, Germany, from where they’ll be distributed to the stores of the Sky supermarket chain in the North of the country, enabling an elderly lady with Gucci glasses and a mink skin around her neck to have a glass of freshly squeezed juice for breakfast the day after tomorrow, all while watching the seagulls chase each other from Fering’s island promenade. By then, Pavel will probably be back in his driving cab. Business as usual in the life of a long-haul truck driver.

The Short Haul Scam

I don’t have any good reason to romanticize Pavel’s profession. It’s arduous, stressful and doesn’t allow for much of a work-life balance. The pay is meager, the competition is high. Most car drivers will hate you. But somehow, long-haul truck driving still strikes me as much more interesting than it probably is.1 Maybe that’s because of the old German television series I watched as a child (or the obligatory board game of the same name), maybe it is because of people like Bavaria-based part-time trucker Jonson who blog about their experiences. Maybe it’s just because I’m a curious person and a traveling writer who’s fascinated by all kinds of nomadism.

Whatever the case, I believe there are some interesting lessons here, especially for the mysterious world of personal development blogging. Isn’t it weird that most people, when they want to get smarter, slimmer or stronger, want immediate results? It seems like all they’re willing to put in is a bunch of money, but as little time as possible. This is reflected by the offers you get; the whole niche is surprisingly short-haul focused: If you sign up to my list, the guru promises, you’ll get the answers you need right into your inbox. Minimum effort, minimum time commitment required.

Here’s a totally scientific Google survey to prove my point:

“how to change your life in 10 years” – no results
“how to change your life in 5 years” – no results
“how to change your life in 1 year” – 3 results
“how to change your life in 30 days” – 53.300 results
“how to change your life now” – 1.010.000 results

So you want to change your life right now. In 30 days at the most. Visualizations and a good attitude should do the job, right?

Are you fucking kidding me?

The Long Haul

Guess what, you won’t see Pavel attending courses that teach him how to visualize his oranges reaching Hamburg. You won’t see him with a magic wand next to the road trying to teleport them to their destination. You will see him doing some serious mile-crunching on the highway, because Pavel knows exactly that without that his cargo won’t get anywhere. Even if he paid a lot of money or tried really, really hard to teleport them, it just wouldn’t work (as long as he’s not Doctor Manhattan).

This sounds obvious, but how often have you bought into an alleged quick fix solution? How often have these quick fix solutions failed to deliver? And how often did you find yourself looking for another quick fix solution shortly afterwards?

Here’s my take on the issue: Personal development only makes sense if we adopt a long-haul perspective. Because making a big turn-around takes time. Making a transition takes time. Time and effort.

When I started The Friendly Anarchist back in 2009, I didn’t even really know what personal development was. Until then, I had been quite happy to jump through the hoops other people held for me. But at some point I decided to find my own hoops instead. And as I reflect on this during the writing of this series, I understand that it’s a matter of integrity to tell you that you too might need a bit more time for whatever it is that you’re going to accomplish. We can’t all be Jack Kerouacs and write a bestselling novel in a few nights of typing frenzy. And even if we were, we’d still need years and years of preparation to get to that point!

Look at it from the other end: If you give yourself enough time, you can do pretty much anything.

How long did it take NASA to get to the moon?2 How long did Shelby Foote need to write his 1.2 million-word history of the American Civil War?3 This kind of stuff isn’t done casually along the way.

Failing to Even Fail

Here’s my guarantee for you: If you try to change too many things at once, you will fail. If you try to rush it, you will fail. And even failing takes some effort. Because in order to fail properly you’ve got to try first. And don’t get me started with that I-tried-the-whole-afternoon story.

An afternoon? That’s what 3-year-olds do. If you’re older than that, please go away. An afternoon isn’t trying. An afternoon isn’t even close! A week, a month, a year might not really be trying. If there was a beautiful Hawaiian word for “a lame and half-assed attempt at something designed to not bring any results but to give a person the right to complain” I would use it right now: Stop `oma`ima`i and try something for real!

The Basis for Any Transition

When you adapt a long-haul perspective, you take some time to get the basics right. James Altucher has a few good pointers when he describes his “simple daily practice” in this Reddit AMA:

  • I eat well.
  • I sleep well. I used to never sleep. Sleeping is the key to ALL health.
  • I dont drink. [Alcohol] is a depressant and has a lot of sugar.
  • I only engage with positive people. Even on this AMA I don’t engage with people trying to bring me down. NEVER.
  • I read every day. 2 hours. Books. Not web.
  • I write 10 ideas a day. Doesn’t matter what kind of ideas. The key is to get the idea muscle going.
  • I am every day grateful. If I start to slip into thinking about scarcity, I change to think about abundance. It is such a pleasure to do this.4

I like a drink sometimes. A good glass of wine with a delicious meal, a great bottle rum with friends. I also sometimes engage with negative people. And still, Altucher’s on to something: Create a solid basis for your transition and you’ll be able to take it from there: “Do all of the above for six months. I guarantee [it’s] like magic what happens then.”

I bet he’s right. But did you see the key words? Six months. Don’t expect outstanding results after a day or two. Don’t expect them after a week, or even a month. Milo has been implementing changes for about a year now: No alcohol. Daily meditation. Running ridiulous long distances even when the rest of us were chilling in our Oslo apartment. You think he’s changed? You fucking bet he’s changed. And you bet he’s got some energy! Almost a year ago he started these seemingly unrelated changes. Now he’s running half-marathons in under 2 hours. He’s also self-employed, decides freely about his schedule and his workdays, and he has a bunch of happy clients and possible employers. That’s what the long haul is about.

How to Be a Grown-Up

Back to Pavel for a second: He cannot teleport his truck to Hamburg. Nor can he drive without diesel. Without oil. Without getting some rest every day, even when he needs to reach his destination as quickly as possible. He cannot do it without some coffee and some water and some tasty food. Energy, people!

So you’re about to start a transition and you’ve got the diesel and the oil and the sleep and the scrambled eggs and everything. Don’t expect things to go smoothly! You’ll still get stuck in traffic jams. Of course you will! You’ll have a flat tire now and then. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a year. But it will happen. You’ll encounter a damaged bridge. A roadblock. A dead-end street. Your engine may go up in flames. Who knows?

But here’s the thing with the long haul: You can still go on.

You can go on and solve the problems as they occur.
You don’t freak out before you’ve even entered the highway.
Instead, you take things step by step. Mile by mile, in our case. Truck stop by truck stop.

You can pull off your transition at your own pace.
That’s what being a grown-up is all about.
You solve your own problems and keep going, all the way until you finish this leg of your voyage.
And then you head on to the next one.

Once you understand that, you’re already engaged with the long haul.

Safe travels, Pavel.

Truck stop image: CC-BY kretyen (cropped) – Thanks!

  1. Especially to a bad driver like me, who on top of that hates cars. []
  2. Approximately 8 years (and 23.9 billion dollars) if we start counting from JFK’s 1961 speech that led to the lunar landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. But just as well we could start counting some 2.6 million years ago, when we first started to use stone tools. []
  3. About 20 years, give or take, at 500-600 words a day. []
  4. Upper and lower case adjusted by me. []