Decaders are individuals committed to playing the long game in life and in business (see: A Call for Long-Term Capitalism). Decaders understand that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Wrestling with these 10 orientations can help you live that mystery.
1. A leader who evaluates success in the context of a quarters or a year
2. One who is habitually driven by pathological urgency
1. A leader who evaluates success in the context of decades and/or lifetimes
2. One who is consciously motivated by existential urgency
1. Locate Yourself in the Long Arc of Time
Own the fact that you are a beneficiary. Your life is only possible because of the hard work and sacrifices of your parents, their parents, and countless others who came before them. Consider that it is now your responsibility (a noble obligation) to pay it forward for future generations that you will never know. In the words of poet Walt Whitman, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” What will your verse be?
2. Learn Deep Lessons from History
Ground yourself in the fundamentals. Study the formation of the universe and explore the evolutionary history of life. Find mentors and use books to learn about key historical figures such as Plato, Lao-Tzu, Queen Elizabeth I, Lincoln, Hitler, Mussolini, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Mandela. Find eternal patterns and reflect on how they apply in your own life.
3. Accept Impermanence
Realize that change is the only constant in life. Stop clinging to a fixed and permanent reality. Each day, empty yourself of the illusion of your own certainty about how the world works. See the fleeting nature of everything, especially your own sense of self.
4. Be in the Present Moment
Every moment offers you the opportunity to stop, interrupt your normal automatic process, and be here now. Practice gratitude and acknowledge the present moment as your ultimate teacher. As Charlotte Joko Beck says, “Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.”
5. Cultivate Active Curiosity
When grounded in present-moment awareness, you have access to active curiosity. In this state, you can choose to be interested and nurture a meaningful relationship with your questions. Discover how questions can be far more powerful than answers, as they represent the gateway to possibility and transformation. The right questions — whether “why?” or “why not?” — can be revolutionary. Lean into the unknown.
6. Recognize the Interconnectedness of Everything
No one is an island, and just as your life’s journey has been shaped by the experiences and struggles of all your ancestors, your present and future are a product of many interlinked relationships and systems. Connect the dots, learn to see larger patterns, and extend your maps. Discover a sense of awe and enrich your perspective though travel, engaging unfamiliar cultures, and experiencing the richness of nature.
7. Embrace Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity
When we’re able to befriend the uncertainties, complexities, and ambiguities of life, we’re also able to cultivate resilience and understanding. Notice the temptation — and resist the impulse — to reduce the world to something more familiar and manageable. Seek what Oliver Wendell Holmes called the “simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity” as a means to maturing your whole self.
8. Defer Immediate Gratification
Recognize and resist your default drive towards immediate short-term satisfaction by pausing to consider long-term intentional outcomes (the very basis of awareness and choice). Note when impulsive action, whether motivated by anger, fear, or desire, can lead to regret. Begin with the end in mind and consider how the choice you make in this moment connects to your future.
9. Release Attachments to Specific Outcomes
Practice the simple act of observation without judgment or evaluation. Work with whatever shows up, right or wrong, good or bad. See everything that happens as feedback for growth and a contributor to your future self. Work with the energies of disappointment, failure, and frustration rather than against them. Surrender to win.
10. Dance with the Always-Emerging Future
As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Open yourself to the emerging future and participate in its unfolding. Find your rhythm as you shape and are shaped by the miraculous movement of time.
Rand Stagen is the Managing Director of the Stagen Leadership Academy. Established in 1999, the Academy trains leaders from across North America who are committed to long-term personal development and using their organizational platforms for positive impact. A passionate advocate for elevating humanity through business, he is also a founding board member and past chair of Conscious Capitalism International.