#1 Always plan a future greater than your past

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ― Aristotle

This article is part of a series of 10 related posts on habits for growth by Drew Browne

For more than 10 years I enjoyed a successful career in law. Today, when many people learn about my previous position and see the noticeably different life I’m now seen to be living, it’s not uncommon for many to inquisitively ask the same question. ‘Don’t you miss all that now?’ as if to suggest that that my current life could only be less spectacular, less enjoyable and less life affirming. I like to think that such questions speak more about the person asking the question and what a meaningful exciting life looks like to them, rather than a critique on my current situation. I usually answer along the lines of, ‘That was a great part of my life, but the things ahead of me are so much more exciting and challenging than those behind me.’

Today, working as a financial adviser specialising in helping generation X and Y clients (and occasionally those who lose sleep over them), I can attest to the truth of this reality. Being able to work with my clients, create meaningful ways to solve their problems and to bring significant opportunities within their reach and ability is definitely a step up from my past.

Recycle your past

Our pasts are always useful because they’re often rich with experiences and learned insights that become part of our core wisdom and life experience. Everything we learn can be recycled into a better more expansive future, and when you comprehend this idea you can expect to develop an almost insatiable desire for learning, serving and greater experiences.

Some people’s futures are not so big and revolve mainly around themselves, while other people seek to make a lasting impact that matters in the lives of others. I believe that you get to choose the type of impact your future will have by the habits you choose to allow into your life.

Desire brings life

A desire for a greater future is only brought to life through a commitment to growth. Maybe you understand that your first job is designed to get you your second job. Perhaps you use life’s bigger problems, such as solving world hunger, as motivating problems to pull you into a future that needs your thoughts, insights and empowerment (like Cathy Burke, founder of The Hunger Project or Robert Dunn, CEO of the Australian office of Opportunity International). Ultimately, your future can only be as big as you imagine it to be.

To ensure your future is bigger than your past, you have to first believe that it’s possible. I’m not talking about occasional positive affirmations, papier-mâché vision boards or vain attempts to excuse yourself from any requirement of individual effort, change and personal growth. (You can try and manifest a future all you want, but without focused action it simply remains where it began.) That said, for those who understand, belief alone (and perhaps the unwillingness to feel uncomfortable) is often the impediment to growth.

We are only what we repeatedly do. Creating a bigger future must force you outside of your comfort zone as you try different things and open your mind to new ideas. This is the core of creating a bigger future.

The courage to think bigger

Our world is filled with people who grew up with limited resources. I’m constantly inspired by the entrepreneurial-minded extreme poor in developing countries, such as the clients of Opportunity International. Through persistence, commercial skill, and a commitment to make a future greater than their past, these clients take advantage of small micro-finance loans to get their foot on the first rung of the development ladder. These courageous, predominantly female individuals learn to run small businesses and, with the limited profits, can send their children to school and start to build a future away from the debilitating cycle of poverty. It’s definitely a hand up and not a handout.

The courage to live bigger

A bigger future doesn’t have to be marked exclusively with wealth, power and influence—it’s about a future more significant than your past that holds meaning and value for you and hopefully leaves a legacy of inspiration for those you love.

Value the small wins

When we think of growth, it’s easy to forget that big wins and successes are made of small victories and triumphs. Don’t neglect to acknowledge small successes. If you’re having trouble with this, do what Australia’s leading small business author Andrew Griffiths does and, throughout each year, carefully write down all of your small accomplishments. By the end of the year, you’ll have a detailed visual record of your small wins that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Take a photo of that list and file it away for your next year’s personal stocktake.

By carefully charting the progress of your small wins as they occur, you’ll begin to see what you’ve done, how it serves the bigger picture and what you have to do next.

What can you do?

1Make the most of what you’ve got, as unexpected events can cut our time short. It’s about what you do with your time, not the length of it.

2Ask yourself a future-focused question such as, ‘What would my future self, when looking back on today, say to me about my current situation?’

3Set small goals, write them down, share them with some supportive others, do them, tick them off and celebrate your small wins.

4Set goals that are bigger than what you do and commit to becoming a meaningful part of the greater conversations in your community.

Drew Browne

You never really understand a system until you start to change it.
I’m an entrepreneur specialising in usable strategic financial advice for Small Business Owners and their families. After 20+ years of experience in law and financial services, I've come to believe there are some conversations that are too important not to have. And in the end, we won’t remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

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