How Being A Long-Term Thinker Will Significantly Improve Your Life and Career - Kathy Caprino
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Advice, Careers, success How Being A Long-Term Thinker Will Significantly Improve Your Life and Career Written by: Kathy Caprino
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Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Becoming The Most Powerful You”

In working with many professionals globally on their career growth and leadership development, one thing has become abundantly clear: thousands of people are focused intensively on short-term goals and gains, but have totally neglected their longer-term and deepest dreams, visions and goals.

There are numerous reasons why we abandon thinking about the future beyond the coming year ahead, and those reasons include having so many commitments and obligations right now that getting through a week (let alone a year) can feel very daunting and exhausting.

Another reason professionals have given in our discussions about short-term vs. long-term thinking is this: they really don’t know what they truly want and in many cases, stopping long enough to examine and explore that question—let alone setting the stage for it—can feel intimidating and even scary for them.

But I’ve found that in order to build happy and successful lives, we have to not only focus on what’s necessary to stay afloat for the immediate future (financially and otherwise) but also continually “plant the seeds for our future selves”—for who and what we wish to be and become in the years ahead. If we don’t do that, years fly by and we don’t end up where we had so hoped to be. (I know this firsthand because I lived it in my own life, through an 18-year corporate career that in the end, was the wrong path.)

To learn more about long-term thinking in a short-term world, why it’s so vitally important and how to engage in it,  I caught up recently with Dorie Clark on my podcast Finding Brave. Clark has a great deal to teach around this topic.

Dorie Clark has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50. She is a keynote speaker and teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is also the author of the new book The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term Worldas well as her previous books Entrepreneurial YouReinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the year by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she writes frequently for the Harvard Business Review.

In The Long Game, Clark shares how to apply the principles of strategic thinking to your life and your career to great reward and success.

Here’s what Clark explains: 

Kathy Caprino: Dorie, you’ve just written a book on the “long game”—can you describe what that is exactly and why it’s so important to our success?

Dorie Clark: It’s human to want short-term results—to see that our efforts are working, and paying off in real time. But the truth is, some of the most meaningful outcomes—the things we truly want to work toward in our lives and careers—take time, often far longer than we might want. That’s what playing the long game is all about. It’s about being willing to make sacrifices in the short term and persevere, even when things are difficult or challenging or it’s unclear that you’re making progress, in order to get to the other side. That’s how you put distance between yourself and the competition and create the life and career you want.

Caprino: You’ve indicated that thinking about the long game is more difficult now than it was say, even ten years ago? Why so?

Clark: The short version is this: social media doesn’t help. In The Long Game, I quote H.L. Mencken, who was a satirist about 100 years ago. He said that the definition of true wealth and success was making $100 a year more than your brother-in-law did. That’s still true today, inflation adjusted, but nowadays it’s not just our relatives that we’re thinking or worrying about: it’s often everyone we went to grade school and college with, your coworkers, and even random influencers online.

It oftentimes seems like everyone else has it figured out, which can make it more painful or challenging during the times when it feels like we don’t. A key element of playing the long game is understanding that there are often vast stretches of time when it’s not clear if something is not working, or not working yet, and we have to plow through that uncertainty and be willing to persevere. Of course, that’s not an invitation to pursue fruitless quests, and that’s why you need a group of trusted advisors around you to help guide you. But it’s far more common for people to give up too soon, rather than to persevere too long.

Caprino: In your book, you talk about how being busy is different from being important. Can you share more?

Clark: One of the most common reasons why people don’t engage in strategic thinking and long-term planning, even though they know it’s important, is they say they’re too busy. Of course, that’s true: we’re all too busy. There are endless emails and meetings, but that’s just the part that’s visible.

There are often psychological or emotional factors underlying our busyness that can be harder to tease out. For instance, research by Silvia Bellezza of Columbia Business School shows that at least in American business culture, busyness is seen as a sign of high status. Even though we say that we want more white space, and we’d like to be less busy, a part of us is often reluctant to give that up because it may signal to ourselves or others that we’re just a bit less essential than we think we ought to be.

Becoming aware of that, and overcoming it, is an important first step in creating the space we need for strategic thinking.

Caprino: What does building your “life portfolio” mean and how does it serve us?

Clark: Even for people who don’t know much about investing, the one thing they do know is that it’s important to create a diversified portfolio. It’s definitely not a good plan to put your entire life savings into one stock, because if it goes down, you’re ruined. You want a balanced portfolio.

Yet we often make a similar mistake with our own careers, investing all of our time and energy into only one source of income—typically our day job. Instead, I like to advise people to balance their career portfolio, perhaps by creating multiple revenue streams, which I talk about in my book Entrepreneurial You.

It’s vitally important to care to create 20% time for yourself. This is a concept popularized by Google, in which employees are encouraged to spend up to 1/5 of their time on speculative, experimental activities. This is how Google News and Gmail were created.

It’s recognized that time might be wasted, but it also might result in something creative, innovative, and lucrative. The same is true in our own careers. No one is going to hand you 20% time—it’s far easier for your time to be swallowed by pressing obligations and endless emails. You have to forcibly carve out the time for yourself.

But if you do, taking 20% of your time to learn a new skill, or explore a new avenue, can be incredibly powerful, helping you create new connections and ensure your skills are fresh. That’s what gives you career insurance and optionality, which is desirable whether you’re talking about finances or your professional life.

Caprino: Can you walk through the types of short-term, long-term, and infinite relationship-building?

Clark: Most people who say they hate networking actually hate short-term networking. That’s the kind of transactional, “give me your business card” kind of networking that gives it a bad name.

Instead, I encourage people to focus on long-term networking, which is making friends with like-minded people whom you find interesting—period. The goal is not to connect because of something you might gain, but because you’d like to become friends and form a relationship.

Over time, that often leads to interesting collaborations or mutual assistance, but that’s not the goal going in. And infinite horizon networking is my term for connecting with people who, on the surface, have nothing at all in common with you. Maybe you’re an artist and they’re an astronaut. But over time, these can become some of your most interesting and valuable relationships, because you learn new ideas, perspectives, and insights from them that you couldn’t possibly get elsewhere in your social network.

Caprino: Finally, with so many rapid changes happening throughout our lives during the pandemic, why did you feel like The Long Game was a great topic for your next book in these times?

Clark: I began writing the proposal of the book prior to the Covid-19, and of course the pandemic upended everything, including the premise of the book. One colleague of mine asked me as I started writing it whether the book was relevant at all, because Covid-19 had proven that all long-term plans could be disrupted easily.

But I came to believe that the book was more essential than ever because we can’t live in reactive mode forever. We have to take back control, and even though it’s true that agility matters and we have to adapt when necessary, that doesn’t mean we should go without goals. It means we should embrace long-term thinking because even if changes need to be made, we’ll still be heading in the right direction over time.

For more information, visit dorieclark.com/thelonggame and download her free Long Game self-assessment workbook.

Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs, Finding Brave podcast, and her new Most Powerful You course.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.