Unplug the Time Bomb

by Anjali Gupta

Recently, I met several folks who quit pursuing their dream because a time bomb exploded in their minds. The time bomb had started ticking the very moment they announced, “In six months, if I haven’t reached some visible and socially acceptable milestone, I will quit my dream”. My personal experiences as well as those of my immediate circle show that such time bombs almost always explode. After reflecting on why they explode, I realized that they were setup to explode from the word go. They are plugged into a goal or a metric that was unrealistic and sometimes just incorrect for the chosen dream. So the clock always wins before you make it.

Far too many times I have measured progress on a scale that was bound to give a zero reading in the short-term. For example, if you are on a path of innovation, for creating an idea or a business mode that does not exist – how can you measure yourself by metrics used by a traditional business? You need to start with a well-proven business model to match  business metrics. When you’re in a Laboratory mode you’re not a business in those early years; you’re simply validating if a business is possible when the product succeeds. Therefore it makes  sense to measure your progress by the metrics used in a Lab. For example, how many experiments did you run, what did you learn from the ones that failed, how can you simplify the problem, etc. You need to talk to people who fund experiments and believe in iterative product evolution.  If you choose the wrong scale, you chase the wrong milestones, and invariably set a time-bomb that’s bound to explode before you’re ready. You never gave yourself a fair chance.

If you want to be a successful writer, you cannot worry about publishing your first book the day you start writing. You will need to throw away many stories until you find the one that sticks. As Malcomn Gladwell’s book Outliers emphasizes that people need to put in 10,000 hours to become good at anything. Who is going to pay for those 10,000 hours of unstructured work? One cannot escape investing time. Unfortunately most of us find interesting stuff to do only later in life. The only problem with a late start is that it creates a pressure to apply past-income metrics i.e. the infamous opportunity cost to any time we spend on it, even before we have acquired the necessary learning to succeed.

In college, when the family was paying for learning, when a college was churning out a report card every six months for others to see, and when a degree was being promised four years later, we did not apply the time bomb principle. We let it take four years as there was no perception of opportunity cost. We allowed the luxury of four years of learning time to a degree that simply brings us at par with millions of others; and now we’re unable to give the same luxury to a goal that has the potential to make us stand out in that crowd!

Eyes cannot see progress, they only see results. So what do you show them when you have no visible results? Go get someone who can see the invisible, who can see the small progress you’ve made and can nudge you forward – a mentor, a patron, a companion, or a real angel. That person will take you through that period of invisible progress.

Our society creates a pattern of setting time bombs to everything we do – buying a house,  a new car, or even irreversible events like getting married and having children are all attached to a fixed time-line. We should all learn to reserve time bombs for things that are less important, like doing laundry before the weekend is over or learning to play a song before the year is over. When it comes to stuff that matters to feeling alive; stuff you never want to see explode, like your childhood dream, or a compelling vision, or a meaningful relationship. Let it have all the time it needs. Just find a way to keep it ticking. Even if it’s behind time, it’s alive!

~ Anjali