13 June 2011

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.



I meet a lot of people who think it’s too late for them. There’s a skill they should have learned, a class they should have taken, but too much time has passed, and it’s just too late.

The crazy thing is that this phenomenon happens regardless of age. A person who is 25 years old thinks back to when they were 20 and wishes that they had done or learned something, but at this point it’s too late because they’re already 25. Forty year olds look back and wish they did something at 30, but now it’s too late. Sixty year olds look back and wish they did something at 40, and 80 year olds look back and wish they did something at sixty, but now it’s too late. It never stops.

We’re always slightly locked into our lives. Whether it’s our jobs, our habits, or our family situations, there is always a reason why we should have done something in the past, but convince ourselves that now it’s too late. This is wrong; it’s not too late.

Think about it like this. Sadly, human beings are unable to predict the future with a high degree of confidence. As you go through life, it will become obvious that there are certain skills you should have learned that you didn’t, because you never knew you needed them. If you don’t plan to learn many things you should have learned when you were younger, you will end up knowing only a fraction of what you need to know. I don’t understand how the idea that we should already know all the things we need has propagated itself within our society, but it is doing us a huge disservice.

Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest English novelists of all time (he wrote Heart of Darkness, The Secret Agent, and Lord Jim), didn’t even learn English until he was 21 years old, and didn’t publish his first novel till his mid-thirties.

The hack is to fast forward yourself to when you’re 90 years old, and ask yourself if it’s still too late. Joseph Conrad could have told himself that, at 21, he wasn’t going to go through the pain of learning a new language, and he would just make do with Polish. Many people accept this line of reasoning. Only last year I had a taxi driver who had been living in New York for sixteen years but couldn’t speak English. However, looking from the perspective of a ninety year old, the issue becomes “am I really going to spend the next seventy years with the hassle and regret of not learning English?” It becomes very clear that you have enough time to learn and become whatever you want.

If you’ve always regretted not learning how to paint or play an instrument, just start. Within 20 years you’ll be really good.

It’s not too late, but it’s later than it was, so you better start now.