Most people would not think it smart to take life or career advice from an unemployed person. If, like many, you believe that your worth is defined by your business (and your busy-ness), then your job may start to define you. It is hard to find common ground if the other person is without one...unless that person was yourself at 100 years of age.
Travis Hamel Olsen seeks advice from his 100-year-old self all the time. Olsen became unemployed after selling his company almost three years ago. Since then, he has been fulfilling a lifelong dream to see the world, and has traveled almost nonstop. He has partied until dawn in Ibiza; hiked 100+ miles through France, Italy, and Switzerland on the Tour du Mont Blanc; and sat in silence for two weeks in the mountains of New Zealand while listening to a Buddhist lama share his wisdom.
Before Olsen left his own career as a company president and COO, he had an imagined conversation with his 100-year-old self that pushed him to take the leap. It began as a simple thought exercise, imagining that his life was drawing to a close. He pictured a small great-grandchild sitting at his deathbed who would ask, "Tell me about your life."
Olsen wondered, "What would I want to be able to tell that child?" That question grew into a philosophy that has guided his journey ever since. "After 2.5 years of unusually thought-provoking experiences it still acts as my True North," he insists.
Olsen likes to do the exercise at the beginning of each year. He sits in an inspiring location, reviews his life so far and his goals from the last year, and then revises it for the upcoming year. He also told me that the exercise is quite simple, and anyone can do it. Here are three questions to guide you:
1. What story do I want to tell?
"100 momentous years offer plenty of wisdom and clarity. Right now, I have the opportunity to live the story I'll want to tell when I reach that age." Olsen likes to type his story as an autobiography written by himself on his deathbed. "Sometimes it's in a true story format, and other times it's more bullet-pointed. Sometimes it's short and sweet, other times it's full of detail." He advises that you do what works best for you at the moment that you are ready to do the exercise.
2. What are the key parts of that story?
Just as plot and characters matter for good fiction, Olsen believes that each person should reflect on motivation, action, and character in their personal story. "Ask yourself, 'What is truly important?' And that's not just about what you want to accomplish, but how you get it done. And For whom, and with whom, you do it." There are no rules, but he warns that it may cause you to confront some uncomfortable choices. "I know I'm doing it correctly if the exercise encourages me to drop relationships or activities that I maintain just because they feed my ego," he says.
3. Where should I direct my energy?
"I normally write my story chronologically," Olsen states, "The first step takes my life and breaks it up into periods of time where I am focused on something in particular, like traveling the world or teaching. And then I look at important categories and create goals for each one. After that, I decide which ones to focus on for the coming year." Olsen's categories include topics like:
Yours will depend on what your 100-year-old self tells you that they value and enjoy most.
"As with business, I'm always starting with the end in mind," Olsen concludes. "Everybody leaves a mark on humanity, so what was mine? I had energy to use, so how did I choose to use it?"