My association with Duke University professor and entrepreneur Dorie Clark started about 11 years ago when we were both freelancers for American Express Business Trends and Insights. I have since watched her career soar: she's authored several best-selling books and received a prestigious award as one of the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the world.
Over the years, I interviewed Clark for several articles. I even engaged her as a marketing and communications consultant to coach me on developing a successful pitch for a client. These events have given me a chance to watch how she works: she is highly responsive, with a laser focus on the right opportunities.
Clark is a modern-day Renaissance woman, continually re-inventing herself. She even wrote the book on self-reinvention: "Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future."
Now, reviewing her latest book, I experience the same Dorie Clark trademark: independence, optimism and resilience. It rubs off on you as the reader.
Are you rushing from one commitment to another, perennially behind, without carving out time to reflect on the kind of life you want to live? Are you optimizing how you spend your time for the achievement of your long-term goals? Do you even have long-term goals?
If this describes your own experience, it may be time to put your foot on the brake to reflect, strategize and prepare to move forward. That's where "The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World" by Dorie Clark comes into play.
Think of this insightful book as an indispensable guide for examining your career or business with new eyes, and projecting yourself to the future by developing a long-term action plan to achieve lasting success and create the interesting, purposeful lives we all want.
When Clark approached me earlier this year to write a review for her new book, I was surprised by the title's central thesis of focusing on the long term. How can we possibly make any long-term decisions about our life and career in these times of great uncertainty? She answers that very question in her book.
According to Clark, long-term thinking is more relevant than ever now. We need to realize that we cannot live our lives in a constant state of passivity, letting the turbulent tide of uncertainty take us wherever it will. Instead of playing defense, we need to be alert, to keep some of our attention on opportunities that emerge to help us through and beyond the current crisis.
Here's the key. Strategic long-term thinking offers an alternative to unproductive worry. It protects us during setbacks of all kinds because it propels us to move toward our most important goals. So, link your reflections about your short-term worries to decision making and actions.
And Clark's life is a testament to that. During the worst of the COVID crisis, she stayed nimble and adapted when the circumstances changed. For example, she ratcheted her focus on projects and relationships she'd been developing over several years, wrote scripts, filmed courses, and relaunched one of her online offerings.
"The Long Game" is a master class in becoming a long-term thinker. I'll focus on five key insights:
Why are you doing what you're doing? It has always struck me as an essential question. Are we optimizing our life for money? For our passions? Whatever it is, we need to admit this and use it as a compass and optimize how we spend our time around it.
But what if we don't know our passions?
According to Clark, while you're figuring out what feels "meaningful," optimize for something "interesting." That's something that sparks your curiosity. In turn, that curiosity spurs you toward mastery in areas you'd like to explore that may, ultimately, lead in "meaningful" directions.
Again, this is something I have experienced personally. While meandering in areas that seemed interesting but not readily apparent as meaningful, I made professional connections that flung doors wide open for me.
Few of us can afford to quit our day jobs to immerse ourselves in whatever we want. But over time, with small strategic steps, optimizing for "interesting" allows you to engage in something pleasurable. This is not only good in itself, but also enables you to gather more information and increase your skills because you're motivated to do the work.
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You can work hard on all the right things and have nothing to show for it, but you must persevere.
Such a lonely journey is arduous. Still, Clark reassures us: once we get past this frustrating phase, the growth is exponential. And hers is no empty optimism, but one based on extensive coaching experience of professionals in many sectors.
For example, you need to have the strategic patience to continue to build up your reputation as a recognized expert in your niche. That's when a critical mass of people knows your name and is familiar with you and your work.
Indeed, this has been my experience as well. For years, I wanted to develop a reputation as a writer. Did it happen right away? No. I started contributing many articles for free to a leadership-development company and other forums. As Clark puts it, I was acting on faith alone.
Eventually, my name was recognized, and I became a paid contributor to several prestigious establishments, and even published two books.
The time and patience to get to that stage create a compounding force that helps you succeed.
In graphic design, "white space" puts the text and images on a page into relief, helping us focus our visual attention on what's important. Have you ever pondered the concept of white space in your professional and personal life?
In "The Long Game," Clark applies the white space metaphor to the lives that many talented professionals lead. This practical book is an invitation to stop for a moment and ask yourself if you're trapped in a short-term mindset – and, like a hamster in a wheel, working hard but getting nowhere.
How do you exit the rat maze? "If we're going to make smart choices about how to spend our time and energy," writes Clark, "we need to give ourselves some white space." That is, we need to clear the decks first and stop living on autopilot, saying "yes" to one commitment after another. Only then can we examine what a successful life means to us and start adopting a long-term view to make it happen.
Another metaphor Clark uses in the book that I like is "heartbeat income," a term inspired by Jonathan Brill, an innovation strategist Clark interviewed.
Heartbeat income is about structuring one's career portfolio to balance risk with the security we need for life's necessities. Once you've reached the minimum standard of living that you need, you can afford to invest 20 percent of your time in what is a little riskier and can yield high dividends for your career.
Like buying a bond, we know we're not going to become billionaires, but we won't go bankrupt either.
My final insight is a strategy to help us make intelligent choices about where to allocate our time and attention. It's what Clark calls "thinking in waves." She outlines four career waves we need to surf to become a recognized expert in our field of choice:
We need to think in waves because we can't engage in every aspect at once; we need to strategically choose when to go all in and when to recede and shift our focus to another area. Think of it as the back-and-forth, gracious and sinuous movement of a wave. It has peaks and valleys.
What can you do to enhance your life in the next few years?
We all know changes don't happen overnight, but we can all take small, decisive steps now that can lead to a more fulfilling life later. But this won't happen if we don't lift our heads to look around us and ask ourselves what we need to do to make our life easier down the line.
If you're willing to bet on yourself and do the work, you will be well on your way to thinking and acting for the long term. Perhaps the work starts with reading "The Long Game."
Bruna Martinuzzi is an experienced coach, presenter and trainer living in Canada. She's the author of "The Leader as Mensch," excerpts of which are available to read in the Mind Tools toolkit. She's also the author of several Mind Tools blogs.
Mind Tools Club members and enterprise licensees can hear a 30-minute interview with Dorie Clark and read the transcript, here:
And remember, if you're not a Club member yet, sign up by January 6, 2022, and get a free copy of the Mind Tools Life Plan workbook, too.
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