On September 5, 1977, a team from NASA watched as the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Voyager 1 was slated for a daunting 4-year journey to visit Saturn.
Many engineers spent long nights and years of effort to make the 4-year journey possible.
Getting to Saturn was the pinnacle of many of their careers.
Right on schedule, Voyager 1 arrived at the ringed planet and sent back loads of photographs and interesting data.
But Voyager 1 was just getting started.
An Impossible Vision
Have you ever thought about what you’re life will look like in the future?
Not just next month or next year, but 5 or 10 years into the future?
Most people don’t.
We live in a world where each day is filled with enough work, to-do’s, worries, and thoughts to keep us intensely glued to the present.
Just the thought of what our lives will look like 6 months or a year into the future might seem impossible to think about. (The coronavirus is doing a good job of making that even harder than usual these days.)
But if we’re going to create lives filled with purpose, meaning, and even financial stability, we have to have a vision that might seem quite impossible.
Nobody on the Voyager team expected what happened next.
The Little Spacecraft That Could
After visiting Saturn, Voyager 1 continued careening through space, but there wasn’t much of a plan for it because it was only expected to last another year or so.
But Voyager 1 had other plans.
It didn’t last for 1 more year.
It didn’t last for 10 more years.
Today, 42 year later, Voyager 1 is still going strong.
The spacecraft that was built to have a 5-year lifespan, intended for a 4-year mission to Saturn, has lasted more than 40 years longer than anyone at NASA had anticipated.
In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to ever leave our solar system having traveled over 10 billion miles further than originally planned.
Few projects, if any, have overachieved by as much.
And perhaps there are lessons we can learn from this incredible project.
Thinking Long Term
Much like Voyager 1’s run to Saturn, many of us have plans for the next few years of our lives.
Plans to finish school, start a family, get that next promotion, buy a house, pay off our student loans.
But those long-term goals often aren’t long-term enough.
We may finish school in 2 years, but what about after that?
We may get that next promotion or next job, but what next?
After we pay off the credit cards, or the car loans, or the student loans, or the mortgage, what is the plan after that?
This type of thinking requires us to step back and look at our lives not in years, but in decades.
What will our life look like in 10 years? What about 20 years?
Those are big questions, but questions we should be able to answer because the next 10 years and 20 years are going to pass.
If we don’t at least have a rough game plan for what we want to accomplish, we’re significantly reducing our chances of looking back and being amazed at what we actually did.
We become underachievers.
The Space In Between
At over 11 billion miles away, it takes over 17 hours for data to travel from the Voyager spacecraft to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Then an additional 17 hours for instructions to be sent back.
That’s a nearly 2-day communication lag that seems incomprehensible to us today.
We’re not accustomed to having so much space in between…well anything.
Yet if we take a moment to look back on our lives, what we often see resembles an array of profound events often connected like dots with lots of space in between.
For Valarie and I, those dots look something like this.
- Valarie leaves Houston to go to college in San Antonio.
- She meets a great friend and pastor who would years later hand us a book called Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey during our pre-marital counseling.
- That book led us to start doing a budget and being conscious of our spending.
- That led us to completely pay off our credit cards and both of our car loans early.
- We then moved to San Antonio to become worship leaders at the same church Val attended in college with the same pastor friend.
- That’s when I started working at the company in which I spent the last 13 years of my working career.
- We eventually paid off our student loans and bought our house.
- We started increasing our 401k and Roth IRA contributions.
- Valarie quits her job to become a stay-at-home mom as we start having kids.
- We paid off our house.
- A friend I hadn’t spoken to in over 15 years mentions Mr. Money Mustache in a comment on Facebook.
- I consume the blogs of Mr. Money Mustache, Go Curry Cracker, Root of Good, Millennial Revolution, The Mad Fientist, and many others.
- We started creating our own plans for financial independence and early retirement.
- I retired in 2019.
- I started this blog.
Aaaand now you’re totally caught up. 😁
Overachieving by Design
But here’s the thing.
We never planned to pay off our house in 7 years.
We never planned to retire in 2019.
I never planned to start a blog.
Does that mean we didn’t have a plan? Did all these things happen by accident?
Quite the opposite.
Our long-term plan was to pay off our debt, buy a house, have kids, pay off our house in 15 years, then keep piling away money in hopes of retiring early in the year 2034.
So what happened?
We. Got. Started.
Not to oversimplify, but that was the absolute biggest event in the entire list above.
We started doing a budget and paying off debt.
By doing just those two things, we created financial space to take a chance on moving to San Antonio without jobs.
Moving to San Antonio allowed me to get a job at a fantastic company in town – right before we were completely broke.
Getting that fantastic job allowed us to finish paying off our student loans.
Not having any debt at all allowed us to pay off our house faster than we ever expected.
Not having a mortgage payment allowed us to invest significantly more money for retirement than we had planned.
You get the point.
We were able to accomplish everything we planned to do much faster than we expected.
It was like each action was building a snowball of positive momentum towards our goals.
But 2 things had to happen first.
- We had to have a long-term plan.
- We had to get started working towards that plan.
And it turns out the plan didn’t even have to be that accurate. It just had to provide a general guide for what we were trying to accomplish.
Creating the Future
The best way to predict the future is to create it.Peter Drucker
But how does being able to connect the dots of our past help us plan dots for the future?
The best thing about the future is that it hasn’t happened yet.
That means we get to make up whatever dots we want!
Here’s an off-the-cuff example that may be related to my wife listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat for the past 3 weeks.
Let’s say you’re a vocal performer and your goal is to sing on Broadway in the next 10 years, your dots might look like this.
- 2020: Pay off credit cards.
- 2021: Save up $5,000
- 2022: Hire a vocal coach and start posting singing videos on YouTube.
- 2023: Find local plays and productions to audition for in the chorus.
- 2024: Get a leading role in a local production and start making connections in New York.
- 2025: Move to New York City. Audition for every chorus role available. Connect. Connect. Connect.
- 2026: Get a leading role in an off-Broadway production.
- 2027: Be able to support yourself solely through vocal work.
- 2028: Start auditioning for Broadway shows.
- 2029: Collaborate in any capacity with 2 directors that you really enjoy.
- 2030: Get hired to do a full run in the chorus of a Broadway musical.
Even though I completely made up the list above, since the future hasn’t happened yet, you can’t say that those events won’t occur.
In fact, there’s a chance that if you make that list and start living your life like those events are going to happen, they are infinitely more likely to occur.
The big key is that this is a long-term plan.
You don’t even hire a vocal coach until year 3!
The worst thing you can do is create a plan where all of those events occur in 2 years.
3-months into your plan you’ll be so frustrated that things aren’t happening fast enough that you’ll quit.
And while the plan above is a 10-year plan, which may seem slow, there’s nothing in the plan preventing things from snowballing at some point and then things start happing even faster.
But nothing happens at all until you start.
The Space In Between
By working to get Voyager 1 to Saturn, the NASA engineers were already making the much grander accomplishment possible.
The Voyager 1 team thought reaching Saturn was their pinnacle moment, never knowing that building a spacecraft to survive 5 years in space was remarkably similar to building a spacecraft to survive 40 years in space.
They didn’t have to know that Voyager would last 40 years longer than they expected, but it never would have if they didn’t have a plan and get started.
So pick your big audacious goal. What is your Saturn?
Then. Get. Started.
The only difference between your life now and your life 10 years from now are the choices you make in the space in between.
It turns out there’s not much to interact with in interstellar space. Voyager 1’s next appointment is with the dwarf star AC+793888 in the constellation of Camelopardalis.
That encounter will take place in 40,000 years.
To help you get started thinking long-term, I created my Vision Planner Worksheet. This simple exercise will help you nail down some of your big audacious goals and really think about what you want your life to look like in the year 2030.
With those big goals in mind, you can then start making choices today that will allow those dreams to come true. Just enter your name and email address and I’ll send you my Vision Planner Worksheet for free.