Life Planning: Why The Grass Is Always Greener In The Other Universe
It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction. – Dr Stephen Hawkins
Picture yourself in an identical world – a replica of the one where you're reading this sentence.
You had the same rough night's sleep thinking the same anxious thoughts. You also took the same journey to work this morning and quietly gagged at the same colleague's yoghurt breath as he was boring you with the same pictures of his 3-year-old's most recent finger paintings.
The only difference in that universe is that, instead of clicking on this article, you decided to spend the next ten mins on TikTok. And in doing so, you created a butterfly effect – setting off a chain of events which, a hundred years from now, will lead to the collapse of civilisation.
An infinite number of identical clones
Bet you're glad you're still reading. But sadly, this catastrophic event you caused will almost certainly happen in that other universe, at least according to most theoretical physics models.
Indeed, there's a growing consensus that we live in a multiverse – potentially not too dissimilar to the one of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.
In most of these universes, you'll never exist. In others, you'll have blue skin, wear a pointy white hat and live in a mushroom house. In yet another, giant chihuahuas walk around with pet ladies in their purses, while at least one other universe is an exact copy of this one, and your carelessly choosing TikTok in favour of reading this article is indeed about to doom humanity.
There's some debate as to why there might be so many universes. The most logical and easy-to-grasp argument goes that if space is indeed infinitely vast, it would be impossible for there not to be an infinite number of other galaxies and universes that look precisely like ours – even in the smallest detail.
Clever physicists crudely calculated how far you'd have to travel in space to meet your nearest identical twin – the answer is ten by 1028 lightyears. That's more than a quadrillion light years if you include a few pee breaks.
Another theory – the one that's just won seven Oscars – states that every time you make a decision – scratch your head, check your phone, stare outside your window – you split yourself into multiple copies, each one representing every single other choice you could have made instead.
You don't notice this happening because you're bang in the middle of the experience. However, if you took a bird's eye perspective – like theoretical physicists do – you'd see a frothy mass of universes exponentially expanding from this precise moment in your personal timeline, pretty much like if you were pouring yourself a glass of soda.
Yolo? I don't think so
What does any of this have to do with coaching or life planning?
Well, we often get hung up on this idea of finding our 'one true purpose' when making life and career choices. While that sounds lovely as a Pinterest quote, it's a rubbish concept. It causes people to seek out the right path instead of exploring the many good enough paths.
If we accept the idea of multiverses, then there's a parallel world out there where age 18, you decided to pursue an artist career instead of the more palatable route for mum and dad. In another universe, you plucked up the courage to talk to that flirty stud on the bus and subsequently found yourself happily married to an industrial heir. In yet another universe, you've been long dead after stepping on a venomous snake while studying chimps in Gabon. Sorry about that.
Just as you have infinite alternative pasts, so are there many different possible futures left out there for you, and in quite of few of those futures, you're leading a rich, flourishing and meaningful life because of the choices you're still about to make.
Research suggests that most people can imagine at least seven or eight of those alternative happy lives. So, let's now explore that spectrum of optimal lives and use them as inspiration for making your current life a little better.
Thought experiment: a spectrum of optimal lives
Here's a little thought experiment I took from Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It may help you ideate some alternative futures by inventing three of those 'good enough' alternative universes and then designing a life plan for each.
Life plan #1. That Thing You Do, But Better. This first plan is centred on what you've already got going on. It's your current life but expanded forward, perhaps with a few extras that would make it 10 per cent better.
Life plan #2. That Thing You'd Do If #1 Were Suddenly Gone. Assume that, for whatever reason, Life plan #1 has become irrelevant and no longer an option. What else would you do? You can't not make a living, so what alternative direction would you now pursue? This could be one of your current side hustles or an entirely new career.
Life plan #3. The Life You'd Live If Money Or Image Were No Issue. What would you do if you knew you could make a decent living from it and nobody would think any less of you for pursuing it? In fact, what if, instead of making money, life became about making meaning?
Based on the above, you can now create three alternative life plans for the next five years.
Each one might include the following:
1. A visual/graphical timeline. Including personal and non-career events (marriage, working out, learning skills, etc.).
2. A short headline describing the essence of this alternative life. For example, an emergency doctor saving lives in the developing world or a location-independent math teacher living in a throuple.
3. A dashboard – on a scale of 1-10 (1 = I've almost none)
Resources (Do you have the time, money, skills and contacts to pull off your plan?)
Likability (Are you hot, cold or lukewarm about your plan?)
Coherence (Does it fit with your values?)
Confidence (How certain do you feel about pulling this off?)
Coherence (Does it make sense?)
4. For each plan, also include the following:
Geography – where might you live?
What experiences/learnings will you gain?
What particular role, industry, or company do you see yourself in?
The purpose of this exercise is to allow yourself to go nuts. Let your imagination run wild, and see if that helps generate valuable ideas for your current universe.
Only a handful of you may find yourself actually pursuing wildcard #3 or going down the side-hustle road, and most will likely be satisfied with a few simple tweaks to your existing life plan.
And if you still struggle to develop alternative pathways, simply picture yourself in that Louis Vuitton bag being petted by a chihuahua all day and just pray that you aren't born with hot dog fingers in that universe.
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