We've been taught to plan our lives based on a very stressful pattern: Decide what you'll do for a living in your 20s, focus on making money in your 30s, work into your late 60s, then retire fatigued — and, perhaps, unfulfilled.
But as a life coach who was worked with several major clients, including executives at Amazon and Dell, I've discovered an alternative life-system that can minimize your regrets, decrease your worries, and enable you to live a happier, more meaningful life.
You can do this by realizing the potential of five interconnected stages: the Dreamer, Explorer, Builder, Mentor and Giver. I call it the "Principle of 18," because each stage lasts for 18 years.
1. The Dreamer Stage
From birth to age 18
In this stage, your goal is to flesh out your dreams and create detailed maps of how to achieve them. Focus on the process, not the outcome or result — that's the key to creating a vision with a serious shot at becoming a reality.
- Identify three compelling dreams for the future. They must be detailed, specific, and include all the steps required to get there. It's okay if you end up doing something radically different.
- Interview role models. Seek out people who are doing what you want to do. Interview them, then incorporate what you learn into your dream-mapping.
- Find the right mentor. Don't reach out to super successful people, but rather to those you respect and who are willing to guide you on your journey.
2. The Explorer Stage
From ages 18 to 36
Now it's time to commit to a serious exploration that leads to the one area where you'll excel and be the most passionate about. And don't just take jobs that you think you "should" accept; you'll just lose the opportunities youth brings.
- Exhaust each dream before moving on to the next. It's not enough to give a half-hearted effort and then decide that something isn't for you. Fully exhaust the potential of each of your dreams, even if it takes several years.
- Take risks. As an Explorer, you have less to lose. Start taking more risks so you learn how to push beyond your comfort zone.
- Don't obsess over money in your 30s. It's more important to find your passion and plan for your Builder years, which is the next stage. Be smart about spending and don't make major financial commitments.
3. The Builder Stage
From ages 36 to 54
Now that you've established a foundation of experience and self-awareness, you can fully leverage your talents. Creating your empire shouldn't take more than 18 years if you have a terrific plan and are smart about implementation.
- Spot your success trains and take calculated risks. Keep an open mind, consider all options, and jump on opportunities that call your name. Minimize your regrets by trusting your intuition.
- Double your efforts, but don't go crazy. Regular, everyday effort doesn't count — that's what everyone else is doing. Dig deeper and sustain your intensity for the duration of the Builder phase to achieve meaningful results.
- Play to your strengths. Don't fixate on your weaknesses. Instead, hone your strengths through repetition until you become unbeatable. Focus on the one area where you can become the world champion.
4. The Mentor Stage
From ages 54 to 72
As a Mentor, you can keep doing what you did as a Builder and retain your sources of income. The difference is that your focus will shift from building your empire to sharing your experience with the intention of guiding people who need it most.
- You have a unique gift to share. Your highest value is not in how to get things done, but rather how to deal with negative emotions, cope with setbacks, develop perseverance, gain perspective and be courageous.
- Sometimes just listening is enough. It's a rare treat for others in this hurried world.
- Start small, then expand. Take baby steps as a Mentor, then deepen your commitment. There's no need to start with a grand plan; you can work towards becoming a full-fledged Mentor over the years.
5. The Giver Stage
From ages 72 to 90
After being a Dreamer, Explorer, Builder and Mentor, you can finally fully enjoy the fruits of your labor. Maybe you want to spend time with your grandkids, ride a Harley or travel to an exotic place. Use your knowledge, passion and finances to advance the cause closest to your heart.
- Remember yourself as a Dreamer. Think about your childhood dreams and aspirations. What could you do to revisit those dreams and involve actual Dreamers?
- You can find your purpose by dedicating yourself to a cause. Don't believe anyone who tells you that all you should do is relax and enjoy the final act. Actively try to find a sense of purpose.
- Seek out connections with Dreamers and Explorers. Get involved with an intergenerational writing program, music class or anything else that allows you to interact with younger people in a meaningful way.
Eyal N. Danon is a life coach, founder of the Ignite Advisory Group, and author of "The Principle of 18: Getting the Most Out of Every Stage in Your Life." Eyal holds an MBA from Boston University, and is a graduate of Columbia University's Business School Executive Leadership.
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