Future You Masturbation

I have a friend who’s creating an awesome side project: LED signs that you can control to let your coworkers know you’re busy.

He has a bunch of fun features that he considers important to the type of business he “wants” to build in the future: integrating with Slack & other online tools, different colors, sync with a Mac & iPhone app, and too much more.

But the reality is that even though he gets orders with zero marketing he’s still hand assembling the signs himself at his kitchen table.

What’s the priority? Writing software for future use cases, or finding an assembler to build the signs for him?

When presented like this you, dear reader, will think the choice is obvious.

But to that I say: you make the same mistake every day.

Where he gets stuck - where we all get stuck - is doing Future You Masturbation.

The Big Vision with all the bells & whistles is fun to think about because it gives you all the benefits with none of the work.

You can picture how you’ll look and feel, the money in your bank account, the respect of your friends and peers.

At no cost you get to imagine a perfect future that has everything you want & nothing you don’t.

Because all the bad stuff, all the unexpected twists & turns, the late nights & early mornings, the rejections & betrayals… even if you wanted to you couldn’t imagine them because you don’t yet know what they’re going to be.

Future You Masturbation gives you the pleasure of all your future accomplishments with none of the work. It’s your brain tricking you into something that feels good today in exchange for lost meaning and purpose and accomplishment in the future.

Do The Work

New projects are like being dropped in the middle of nowhere with 100 different paths in front of you. You have no clue where any of them will lead & can only see the first 3 steps in any direction.

Most of us don’t choose at all & instead do more “research” and planning.

To continue the metaphor: instead of choosing one of the 100 paths and beginning to walk we start building a tower that we believe will let us see higher to help us choose the “best” path.

Of course we don’t know whether the extra vision from the tower will give us more useful information than walking a few steps down one of the paths, but we do it anyway because because it feels safer.

You get to keep all the optionality and the Big Vision can’t be messed with. And the entire time you’re building your tower of research you’re Future You Masturbating so it feels like you’re making progress.

What we should all do is pick the path that has the best 3 feet. In my friend’s case: follow the money!

People want the signs so find the cheapest and most reliable way to make them ASAP.

That requires going outside his expertise though. And, more importantly, it might not work!

The path he chooses might be a dead end and will likely have more bumps than other paths he could have chosen.

Who wants to work on something that might not even work out? Yet another reason to daydream about the future instead of doing work today.

You probably point at my friend & think “yeah but that’s so obvious you do the thing in front of you first”.


Have you ever…

  • been inspired to get in shape and instead of immediately running gone online to shop for workout clothes?
  • Started a business by making a website instead of finding a customer?
  • Complained about your dating prospects instead of making yourself more dateable?
  • Emailed someone where a call would be better?
  • Starting goal setting by buying a fancy journal instead of opening a Google Doc ?
  • Put off the correct, hard work for the easier, less effective work?

We are all my friend.

This was originally published in my weekly newsletter, How It Actually Works.

Meaning Without Success

The hard work is the direction we need to go.

Not only will it get us closer to the goals but it will add meaning to our lives even if we never accomplish them.

Whether you have a Tesla in your brain or a Tesla in real life doesn’t make a difference in how happy you are.

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