In my 20s, my mental orientation was on the here and now. I counted time in months and years.
In my 40s, my mental orientation has taken on a much wider timescale. I spend as much time thinking about the past and future as I do the present.
In many respects, they are one and the same. (I’ll explain more in a moment.)
Regarding time, I now think in terms of years and decades.
A week ago, a former client invited me to give a speech to a small group of CEOs.
My standard answer for speaking engagements is “no,” regardless of speaking fee.
I don’t like to travel.
I don’t like things that break my routine.
The only reason I said "yes" was because the person who invited me is someone I’ve known professionally for 13 years.
When I showed up in the conference room, I was surprised to discover four familiar faces.
One CEO I also met 13 years ago.
Another 11 years ago.
Another 7 years ago.
Another 3 years ago.
By reconnecting with those people from my past and giving a speech in the present, the two combined to result in new doors opening for my future.
The past, present, and future all intersected in that moment.
Separately, I just finished a welcome call for an ex-McKinsey consultant that we recently hired to serve as a case interview coach.
In our conversation, he mentioned that he had first used my case interview materials over eight years ago.
He isn’t just one of my case coaches.
He’s also one of my former students and alumni.
Once again, my efforts in the past have enabled my future.
Two weeks ago, someone I’ve never met raved on Facebook about a book I wrote about scaling revenue growth in entrepreneurial businesses.
One of our mutual Facebook friends tagged me in the post.
The friend in common was someone I met two years ago.
Another Facebook friend in common also jumped in to say we met each other 13 years ago and had positive things to say.
A former client of mine from ten years ago also chimed in with positive things to say.
A business acquaintance of mine that I met seven years ago also chimed in with positive things (and subsequently invited me to vacation with him in a few months with a few of his CEO friends).
That post has prompted me to realize the book was never properly launched eight years ago, and I now plan to re-launch it.
Once again, my past reappeared in my present and has enabled my future.
I do believe this is a useful rule of thumb for you.
The choices you make today persist.
If you build good relationships today, they help you five, ten, and 15 years down the road.
In my 20s, I couldn’t even conceive of life that far in advance, beyond theoretical terms.
In my 40s, I am SO glad that I treated people fairly and well years ago.
I’m glad that I put in the extra effort in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2015 to make my work as strong as possible.
The people who encountered my work in those years have come back into my life and career; and brought more people and more opportunities with them.
Those efforts make this year’s and the next decade's worth of opportunities possible.
Here’s the thing.
In all those examples from the past, nobody was really watching.
I could have very easily cut corners on that book I wrote in 2010.
Nobody would have noticed.
I could have cut corners in interacting with the person whom I sat next to at a conference in 2004 and 2011.
Nobody would have noticed.
The things that become assets in your career are often created years earlier when nobody else is watching.
You could very easily cut corners, dismiss that person, or add less value. Nobody would ever know.
When you make those extra efforts (even when you don’t have to... or especially when you don’t have to), they add up over time.
You can choose to do the bare minimum to not offend anyone.
You can choose to do the maximum possible, given your skills and availability.
In the week following in either case, there’s no material difference in outcome.
However, in the decade that follows, the outcome difference is night and day.
Which approach are you using?
What future are you creating (or not creating) for yourself today?