Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Plan Realistic Timelines

In 2004 I decided I wanted to try to attempt to climb Mt. Everest within 10 years. In 2014, I attempted Mt. Everest, sort of. I never took a step above base camp, but then again unless you tried to climb on April 18th or earlier, no one went above basecamp. How in the world can a teenager set a goal, a decade in the future, and reach it, on time? I will tell you.

  • Set a goal you want to achieve. Sure it's a pretty basic idea, but if the end result isn't something you really want, quit wasting your time. Because regardless of the goal, there will be times you want to quit, do something else, are plain sick and tired of thinking about it, and just want to escape. If you are fully committed, then when these times come you can acknowledge them and then promptly ignore them and continue with the plan.
  • Do your research. If your goal is something that other people have done, it's a known quantity, it can be repeated. What did it take for the first person to achieve that goal? What does it take for the average person today to achieve that goal? How long does the planning and preparation for the actual event take? How long does the preparation leading up to the event take? For example, it takes a month or more to actually buy a house, but leading up to that you need good credit and a big cash downpayment which might takes years of saving and paying bills on time.
  • Be realistic. My definition of realistic involves world records, space travel and a host of other things most people laugh away, but even then I know of plenty of things I am not going to do. Anything is possible, and it's important to remember that, yet we each have skills and talents and sometimes after frittering away at something it makes sense to say, "not going to happen for me" and move onto the next thing. There is a reason I run and climb mountains rather that try to do something I am terrible at, I would rather be extremely good at something, and use the gifts I have rather than waste time at something I will never master. 
  • Give yourself more time to achieve the goal than you think you need. Everest is expensive. More expensive than many new cars. More expensive than a decent downpayment. I knew it would take time to save the money. I also knew I needed more experience before I attempted it. Going to Broad Peak in 2009 was the expedition I felt I needed to gain experience. It cost around a quarter of Everest, and would give me a lot of experience, and it did. I figured after that that 2012 was the most likely year for me to be ready to go to Everest, but unemployment in 2010, delayed that to 2013, and then a variety of money related factors delayed that to 2014. Knowing what I know now, with the skills I have, I feel I am less than two years away from doing any of the major endurance or high altitude challenges in the world be they row across an ocean, swim the English Channel, ski across Antartica, or whatever. In fact, if I put my mind to it, I could probably prepare for and do some of these events in less than a year. 
  • Experience counts for a lot. In my opinion people that plan timelines that run past their milestones typically are inexperienced, work with inexperienced teams, or as I mentioned above aren't being realistic. So if you are trying to plan some sort of timeline, and you want it to be realistic you absolutely must take into account the experience of the team, or of yourself. Less experienced people = more mistakes and a longer learning curve. I almost died three times between 2003 and 2009 while learning mountaineering. I never want to repeat any of the those three circumstances. Now I know what to look for and what little signs led up those mistakes. Obviously many goals do not have the death risks of mountaineering, but death clearly illustrates mistakes better than poor engineering datum structures. 
  • Create intermediate milestones. One of the requirements for swimming the English Channel I have not fulfilled yet is a six hour swim in waters below 60°F. It's something that must be done before hiring a guide boat and assembling a crew. Much more manageable than actually swimming the channel. With Everest I learned rock climbing, ice climbing, snow skills, camping skills, money saving skills, weather skills, team work, and persistence. Each little skill had to be learned before I felt confident attempting the highest mountain in the world. Unfortunately many people do not learn these skills before attempting Everest, and that is why people go there to die. Oh they don't think of it as going there to die, but they expect a certain level of support at 8000 meters that is just plain unrealistic. 
  • Be patient. It is so easy to be impatient and want to achieve things as quickly as possible. This is not the way life works. There will be setbacks in any goal worth achieving. My dad had to ask my mom several times to marry him before she took him seriously. The first time he asked, my mom had not even told her mom, my grandma, that she was seeing anyone. After that kind of rejection I would probably go running for the hills and never talk to her again. So it was with Everest as I planned trips to Mt. Rainier, El Pico de Orizaba, Denali, and numerous times to the Presidentials in New Hampshire that fell through, and I did not gain experience as fast as I wanted. We might want to list patience as something to exercise after missing a milestone in the lead up to a big goal, but patience is necessary in the setting of timelines and goals. You can't whip this stuff up in an afternoon. I was reading about Mt. Everest and mountaineering, and starting to climb and mountaineer for two years before I decided on attempting Everest within two years. It took me two years just to come up with the plan! Just ask about my 30 year plan sometime, I'm still working out the details, and to spoil the question, no I won't reveal anything even if you ask. 
That's all I can think of at the moment. To me these apply to bussiness as well as they do to climbing Mt. Everest or running on Team USA at the world championships. 

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