Have you ever read the book "Wisdom From Golden Years?" The book features interviews with a handful of 80-somethings who are reflecting on their lives and talking about the things they wish they had done differently. There are common themes throughout the interviews.
"I regret that I didn't watch more television. Those shows are so funny and entertaining. I wasted so much time doing other things"
"I really wish I hadn't been so healthy. All those workouts, all that health food… ugh. It was the biggest mistake of my life."
"I wish I had learned to use a computer better so that I could have spent less time with my friends and family in person and more time sending emails and leaving witty anonymous comments on YouTube videos"
Of course, no one really said such stupid things, and there is no such book. And of course, I don't really wish I had spent more time on Facebook last year. What I want to do is make a point about 2008.
You can learn a lot by talking to the elderly. One thing you typically find is that they do have common regrets, very different from the faux regrets above. They wish they had taken better care of themselves, saved more money, spent more time with friends and family, and done more to achieve some of their goals. They never wish they had watched more television.
I'm willing to bet that as you look back on 2007, there are some things you didn't achieve that you wanted to. I'm willing to bet that you aren't sitting around wishing you spent more time on Facebook. But I bet there are days that you sat down intending to spend 20 minutes and ended up wasting 2 hours on it, or on some other Web 2.0 site.
Human beings are suffering from a values gap between the short-term and long-term. We have long-term goals, but short-term attention spans. Sometimes we forget that getting a PhD, making a million dollars, competing in the Olympics, running a marathon, mastering a hobby, or whatever it is that we want to achieve in life is basically accomplished by sacrificing lots of the short-term to reach our goals in the long-term.
With all this talk about the social media revolution and how great it all is, I can't help but wonder if it's what we really want. Does facebook really help us achieve our long-term goals? Or is it really just taking advantage of our short-term reward systems and sucking us down a path of wasted time? I'm not saying you should work on your goals 24/7 and never relax, I'm just guess that most of you have be sucked into social media for longer than you intended.
I asked myself two tough questions at the beginning of this year:
1. How many pieces of information did I receive from blogs, aggregators, news sites, etc, in 2007 that, if I had not received them until the next day, I would have been much much worse off?
2. How many pieces of information did I receive that, if I had never received them at all, I would have been worse off?
The answer to both is "not very many." What I learned from that is that I spend too much time online, and there is no reason I can't get by just fine reading 1/3 as many blog posts, and spending a little less time doing things that are fun but frivolous.
Just like people feel the need to take on massive debt to drive a nicer car, live in a bigger house, send their kids to private schools, or whatever it is they need to do to "compete" in their social circle, we sometimes feel the need to be "in the know." I like being the guy that tells a bunch of people about some new cool website that they've never seen before. It's fun, and it makes me look like some sort of maven. But I'm not. And I shouldn't be so concerned about it. I subscribe to TechCrunch, not because I like the site, but because I fear being left out – being the one guy who doesn't know that an Yahoo just bought a new Web 2.0 startup. Why should that matter? It's time for me to unsubscribe for that RSS feed.
Whatever your business and/or career goals are for 2008, make sure you spend your time doing the right things, not just the easy fun things. When you look back on 2008, you won't regret missing those tv shows, or not returning those pokes on Facebook, but you may regret that you didn't work a little harder, learn a little more, or spend a little more time with the important people in your life. It's a New Year, and it's time to make new choices.