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The Dog Days Aren’t Over
Vol 26: Time, Failure, & the Future
“Time was your ally, but now it has abandoned you.”
You may think this is a quote from a book or some sagacious scribe, but it is actually from a video game I played back in high school. Its wisdom stuck with me though, because it was such an interesting notion.
Time is a unique beast. It’s relentless in its advancement, and its progression can either be a blessing or a curse. At times, it is a friend, helping us grow when we need to develop. But it is also a fierce foe, one that strips us of abilities and actions. Time is a force multiplier, and it cannot be vanquished.
We do not have dominion over time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has dominion over us. We cannot control time, but can we control our relationship with it? Can we keep time on our side?
What each of us experience in life is exceptionally different, and that brings a futility to offering unsolicited advice. When you talk about abstract ideas, it becomes even more difficult — offering any sort of useful advice is hard.
This is one of the reasons why I write the way I do — it’s easier for me to share how I’m approaching my time here rather than try to show someone else how they should live theirs.
But among the various things I do, perhaps nothing is more important than my relationship with time. I think much of what I do can be distilled into actions that align myself with time. I go out of my way to make it an ally.
You probably know this by lots of names: long-term mindset, regret-minimization framework, expanded time horizons, and much more. Maybe there are subtle differences between them all, there usually always are.
Whatever you call it, the approach is consistent in one key way: you recognize that this is it. You only get your one shot with your time here, so you need to approach it intentionally.
Intentionality is everything, it gives you just enough foresight to aim ahead to the future, while also permitting you to chart another course entirely. Intentionality is a compass for navigating life.
Contrary to how it may appear, I don’t have a preordained path for myself. I plan plenty of things out, especially for goals I set for myself, but the underlying steps and systems I create are flexible. If they weren’t then I would not be able to adjust as life happens, whether that be new challenges, personal aspirations, or shifting priorities.
For whatever reason, I’ve always approached life with an intentionality — I want to make the most of my time here. As I’ve written, a large portion of my life centered around lacrosse, and then after 15 years that ended. So I set out to make a new narrative — a new story to tell myself, about myself. It took a few years to get there, and it involved a lot of trial and error, but now I know What I’m Here For. And that is a really liberating thing to know.
But not knowing the answer to that question is not a problem. It’s really hard to arrive at an answer, and I’m very fortunate that I’ve had the support of family, friends, and coworkers to help me figure it out. My environment fostered a laboratory where I was able to experiment with my interests. To try new things, see what excited me, and ultimately help me learn what I want to do. I had the ability to be inefficient in my pursuit of new things, and that opened lots of doors for me.
But crucially, I reject the obsession of optionality that is so prevalent today. You want to have some wiggle room so you can experiment and learn what you love, but you also need to make decisions and commit to something. Those decisions ensure you move forward. And once you’re moving, you can always change direction.
Just as an object at rest stays at rest, the general inertia you accumulate ensures that you not only stay in motion, but that affords you extra abilities that you can use to pivot more effectively.
As I said, I don’t have a preordained path for myself. But I do have a general understanding of What I’m Here For — and with that understanding comes a deep sense of mission and purpose. It acts as the guiding force in my life, irrespective of what I’m actually doing day to day.
And daily difficulties are a big part of life. Everyone has them, some far far worse than others. But we are connected in that we all face them. And that brings with it a certain type of camaraderie.
One of life’s inevitabilities is failure. It touches us all at some point in life. And that’s okay. If you learn from it and become better, then it acts as the best teacher we could ask for. And like any great teacher, coach, or mentor, it asks a lot from us — often to the point where we get frustrated by its incessant demands.
But that’s how you become better. And importantly, these demands are not all equal. Some have more demanded of them. Which is to be expected, because life is inherently unequal. If everything was at equilibrium, by definition, nothing would happen.
This is one of the many reasons why people are so different. Nature and nurture dance together, and the resulting waltz leads to different types of Ambition. Almost by definition, the people that fail the most are the ones that learn the most. Anyone that’s achieved greatness has a litany of failures they can point to. For whatever reason they embrace these lessons and seek more of them. Most don’t do that, but this is the price for success. It doesn’t guarantee it, but this is one of the ingredients you have to have.
Back in 2020 I wrote my Magnum Opus: What If Everyone Could Code? — it was a 10,000 word essay about what’s wrong right now, and what we can do to fix it all.
One of the key points of that essay is that failure will always exist, so why not try to do the most ambitious things possible? If you fall short, you’ll still do something special, and if you succeed… well then you’ll accomplish the incredible.
Anyone that’s accomplished anything of significance has had grand aspirations. Many of them failed, significantly so. But in the long run, they succeeded, and their early failures were formative.
Steve Jobs was famously fired from Apple, and later returned better because of it. Now we all have smartphones because of him.
You might think that you’ll be less likely to achieve grander aspirations, but interestingly I don’t think that’s true. It is harder by definition to do what you’re aiming to do, but humans are drawn to these visionary quests like a moth to a flame. So even though it is harder, you oftentimes get more help. You get more ambition, dedication, and passion from the people you work with.
You also face less competition. If something requires more effort, time, and energy, then less people will do it. If you take the path of greater resistance, over a longer time frame, then you have a major advantage. Because the easy path is the shortest, and by extension, the most traversed.
And lastly, you learn more too, because you fail far more often when chasing greatness. If you can continue this chase, then usually on a long enough timeline you get where you want to go. And everything changes once you get there.
Type II Fun
The ups and downs are what makes life interesting. See there are two types of fun: there’s the things that are enjoyable in the moment, and then there are things that aren’t, but afterwards we look back fondly upon them. This is usually the physical exertions we see in athletics, but it very much extends to other types of endeavors.
I recently learned that this second type of fun has a name: Type II Fun. It’s not a very fun name, but maybe it’s fitting given it’s usually not very enjoyable in the moment. Regardless, I see it is a powerful thing to pursue — it always exists when you’re pursuing perfection.
There’s a biological reason why this happens. Our brains do a great job of clouding our recollection of previous pains we’ve suffered. There are probably a lot of valid reasons — but probably the most important is that this is what wills the human race forward. If we remembered all the toils in terrific detail, we wouldn’t want to do it again. But instead our mind amplifies how we feel after it’s all over. We remember how great we felt when we accomplished our goals.
A long-term mindset is all about persistence and patience. You need to continue sustained efforts, and you need to be content knowing it will take a while. But that it will be worth the trip. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll figure out how to enjoy the journey getting there.
The key is figuring out how to be fueled by failure. How you can continue forward undaunted by setbacks.
One of the things that makes failure so hard is that oftentimes you have to just accept the loss. You can’t afford to get too wrapped up into it. The disappointment still stings, but you need to make it fleeting and fueling. It can’t fester and consume you, otherwise it dominates your mind instead of calibrating it. As I said in The Fuel of Failure:
Sports are a microcosm of life. You can plan ahead all you want, but once the game starts everything changes.
You inevitably fail at some point. But don’t get back up right away when you fall down, otherwise you’ll end up on the ground again. You have to learn and become different.
One of my favorite podcasts I listened to last year was Mike Maples Jr.’s appearance on Invest Like the Best. Of all the notes I took, this particular section stood out so clear:
I can’t waste any ERGs of energy on people who don’t value my advantage, so there’s either people who value my advantage or there aren’t. — Mike Maples Jr.
That’s ultimately how I’ve handled setbacks after athletics. Sometimes things don’t work out. And it isn’t necessarily a reflection on you. But you have to be perceptive enough to know when failure is and is not within your control. You must Control the Controllables, but you need to be confident enough to know when to brush off failure instead of internalizing it.
The best way to build this confidence is to develop systems that you meticulously audit. Ones that push you to become better, and ultimately push you to become the person who you’re meant to be. That’s what Intentionality Embracing Time means to me. Knowing that in the long run, things will work out, because you’re putting in the hard work now.
The Dawg Days
Success in life is a combination of the people you meet, and the things you accomplish together. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is one of the most fulfilling feelings you can ever have. That’s why people love playing sports, and why great company cultures are truly invaluable.
When you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself, you gain a sense of identity and community often unmatched by anything else in life.
Even with all my personal athletic setbacks, this is how I feel about my time at BU. Starting something brand new is never easy, but it offers a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact. And that’s something that innately drives me.
The first 8 years of our program were certainly successful, but we never achieved our ultimate goal. That all changed the week after I published Fuel of Failure, though. Our team hosted the playoffs because we handedly won the regular season championship. We beat Lehigh in the semifinals and made it to the championship game for the first time ever. And we won.
In less than a decade we won the Patriot League tournament and made it to the NCAA tournament — and even if the majority of the alumni were not suited up on the field, it still meant so much. We went through the trenches together, and that’s a bond that never breaks.
The current senior class was the last group of guys I played with, and seeing them succeed on the biggest stage was surreal. I felt a fierce pride watching them play that day. Maybe that’s a silly thing to say, but that’s the best word I can think of — it’s a feeling that’s really hard to convey.
Lots of teams bring their trophy to the stands when they win. But this team brought it over right away, and handed it to the alumni. I thought it was so cool, especially because three-quarters of the team didn’t know us personally. But that’s what makes sports special.
After the pandemonium died down, one of my teammates and I turned around, we saw each other, and we shared a long celebratory hug. “We did it.”
The “we” stood out so much. Yes, we certainly contributed to this win thanks to our time in the program, but this year’s team did all the work. That’s not what the “we” was for. It’s a testament to all the trials and tribulations we endured, and how even with all the highs and especially deep lows, we still love being a part of this program.
That brings us back to intentionality and aspirations. I always intended to join a team that I could make a difference for. I didn’t end up doing that directly on the field, but I succeeded in other facets, which I’ve since learned are just as important. It wasn’t always easy or enjoyable, but that’s par for the course. And after 9 eventful years, we finally did it.
So even if you move on from something, your goal should be to leave some sort of an imprint, however big or small. The prior classes all left their mark, and this current team took care of the rest. And they deserve all the credit for breaking through.
I joked that the red dawgs are just getting started to some of my classmates, and while it was mainly a jest, it resonated personally with me. See when time is an ally, all your efforts compound. Getting started is still hard, but once you have momentum, your inertia keeps you going, and time accelerates this movement. Our program is only building momentum, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
That's what I took away from my weekend watching my former teammates hosting the championship trophy. My four years may not have been enough time for us to win, but on a longer time frame we had more than enough time.
There are alternative outcomes where we could’ve won during my time in college, I'm sure. But that didn’t happen, and you can’t dwell too much on the things that never occurred.
So as I look forward, I’m thinking about the things I want to accomplish, and accepting that they will not be easily achieved. They will require years of hard work. But that’s the type of challenge I’m drawn to — one where time is not your adversary, but your ally.
If you approach hard problems with that mindset, then you know how to be happy in the long journey to get there. Time will not abandon you. It will accompany you.
This is what that weekend reaffirmed for me — if you get the right group of people and work diligently towards an audacious vision, then you’re bound to fail. And fail. And fail again.
And then one day you’ll succeed, and it’s all worth it. I will continue applying this to every endeavor I undertake. It’s how this team (and our species) became so great.
The dawg days aren’t over, they’re just getting started.