520: 10 Year Importance

10 years ago, what was the most important thing in your life?


Full episode script

As humans, generally, we are not always great at defining what will be the most important to us in the future. After all, we tend to guess that things will turn out in a way that is more favorable to our wants, needs, desires, and interests than statistics may tell us they will.

For example, as Caroline Beaton wrote:

Between 1956 and 1962, the University of Cape Town psychologist Kurt Danziger asked 436 South African high-school and college students to imagine they were future historians. Write an essay predicting how the rest of the 20th century unfolds, he told them. “This is not a test of imagination—just describe what you really expect to happen,” the instructions read.

Of course, everyone wrote about apartheid. Roughly two-thirds of black Africans and 80 percent of Indian descendants predicted social and political changes amounting to the end of apartheid. Only 4 percent of white Afrikaners, on the other hand, thought the same. How did they get it so wrong?

Students’ predictions were more like fantasies. “Those who were the beneficiaries of the existing state of affairs were extremely reluctant to predict its end,” Danziger explains, “while those who felt oppressed by the same situation found it all too easy to foresee its collapse.”

Given that we are terrible at predicting the future, even when we could be considered “experts,” the things that are important to us now may or may not be the things that have the biggest impact on us in 10 years. Yet that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, stressful, or impactful now.

In the late 1960s, two researchers explored what current events have to do with predicting future illness. The Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale, officially known as Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) assigns a numerical value to life events. If you have a score over 300, then you have an 80% chance of experiencing a illness within a year. This has held true across cultures, ages, genders, and a number of other tests. A few of the most stressful events include:

Death of a spouse or family member, Divorce, Imprisonment, Personal injury or illness, Marriage, Dismissal from work, and more. This scale also accounts for cumulative stress.

Negative or positive, what’s important to you right now might change or might not. What I find very interesting to focus on is instead the things that may not change. Though he’s a problematic figure in many ways, Jeff Bezos has some very good advice here, even if it was originally intended for businesses. As Business Insider put it:

If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company. Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things.


Looking for something to listen to this weekend?

May I suggest The Dirty Bits? This is a fun little podcast that explores history with a little bit of a kick. It’s the real story of history as told by a Southern California voice-over artist. It’s definitely not what your history teacher would have included in the curriculum, but it is the parts of history that make it seem more, well… human. Definitely something to listen to on your headphones if you’re at work, and definitely something to enjoy.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.