Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.
— Earl Nightingale
The above quote is a frequent sight on inspirational Twitter feeds, and it’s quite compelling. Let’s take a closer look.
“I’ll be [x age] when I’m done” is a common objection to committing to a worthy but faraway goal. Earl Nightingale points out that we’re going to arrive at that age regardless of how we spend the intervening years. We might as well achieve as much as possible.
So does the above quote provide good advice?
I think so—when the plan we’re considering is ambitious and well-vetted. When we’ve done our research, everything checks out, and all that’s left is to muster the courage to leap off the diving board, Nightingale’s advice is sound.
Before this stage, though, Nightingale’s advice can be problematic thanks to opportunity cost: the idea that any time we spend on Activity A now can’t be spent on Activity B, which may have been a better use of that time. Committing to any reasonably good long-term goal and saying “the time will pass anyway” is not an ideal strategy, at least not if a more compelling, more appropriate goal could have been uncovered with a little more research.
When you need a push off the diving board, remember Nightingale’s advice: the time really will pass either way. But take some time to make sure you’re climbing the right diving board in the first place.