The great Japanese Train Trip of 2013 is over, and everyone has left Tokyo besides Sebastian and myself. Making up for the week of decreased productivity, we meet in an office in Shibuya every day and work. During meals and in between blocks of time, we talk about life and work and habits.
Getting Serious is an idea that comes up a lot. I mentioned it in my post about turning thirty, but the idea has been clarified through our conversations and I think it warrants another mention.
What is getting serious? It's when you pick something, you make it an overriding first priority, and you give it a long time horizon. Being an overriding first priority means that most of your time goes to this one thing, and that its importance trumps everything else. You start turning down things that you'd like to do, just because it gives you more time for your first priority. Not direct schedule conflicts, just more time.
You have to give your goal a long time horizon, because it takes a long time to do important things. By allocating a few months or even a year to a project, you give yourself an easy out. By saying that you'll do something for a minimum of five years, you give yourself no outs.
There are certain things that can only be done under these conditions, and by getting serious you give yourself the space to do them. There are many projects where working a few hours a week will never result in success no matter how many weeks you work, whereas giving it your all for several years will. By getting serious you admit yourself to that upper echelon of possibility.
One project, overriding first priority, long time horizon.
There are other defining characteristics of getting serious, but I think that they all stem from those three factors. You have to work hard, of course, but if you have one project, it's an overriding first priority, and you've allocated years to it, you'll work hard. You have no choice. You have to produce good work, but that's just a function of effort and time.
Just because there are only three criteria doesn't mean that they're easy to fulfill, though.
Being serious is a way of living, not the following of a few steps. It's easy to say you'll stick with something for five years, but much harder to know that you'll actually do it. It's easy to call something your first priority, but harder to turn down fun things for the sake of work.
To do anything hard you must have proper motivation. The first time I decided to become vegan I gave up after one salad, because I was doing it for no real reason. The second time I stuck with it for years and years because I read the China Study, which convinced me that it was important. Getting serious is a huge shift and is hard-- you must be properly motivated.
My motivation came along with my thirtieth birthday. Around that time I took a look at my goals, took a look at my progress, and took a look at my habits. I realized that I would unequivocally not reach my goals at the pace I was going. I would put in fair amount of work, move the needle a bit, but never actually get where I wanted to get. This scared me, because when I was twenty I felt like I had an infinite amount of time to figure things out. When I turned thirty I felt like I had much less. I'm not sure if becoming serious is something that can be prompted simply by looking at goals, process, and pace, or if feeling like you're running out of time is an integral piece of the puzzle as well.
You don't have to become serious if you don't want to. Probably most people don't care, and that's okay. A lot of happy and fulfilling lives have been lived without being serious. If you have big goals, though, and you want to maximize your chance of reaching them, then it's probably a good idea to get serious.