By Shane Bender
Do you believe the future is destined, or do you believe we have control over it? I heard Zig Ziglar on a recording from The Ziglar Show Podcast ask the audience if they believed that they could do something today that could destroy their future. Of course, just about everyone raised their hand. If you believe this, then do you believe there is something you can do today that will help your future?
Nate Silver says in his book The Signal and the Noise: “Prediction is indispensable to our lives. Every time we choose a route to work, decide whether to go on a second date or set money aside for a rainy day, we are making a forecast about how the future will proceed – and how our plans will affect the odds for a favorable outcome. “
Many of you might be thinking that the idea that we have much control over our future makes no sense. I think that the following four objections cover just about all of us.
Objection #1: “Nothing has worked out how I thought it would; why would this change?”
There were a number of unexpected events that occurred in my personal life recently. We had a family member separate from their spouse, my daughter’s level one gymnastics teacher who was 27 years old died suddenly, my wife got shingles, and more. In my business, how I got my clients and the timing did not happen the way I thought it would. I believe much of the short-term does not happen the way we think. Life throws us curve balls. We fail from time to time, but we have to learn from these failures and trials. There is a short-term forecast and a long-term forecast. We are in this for the long run, so we have to keep doing the consistent activities that will get results.
I have a client that has had a volatile year when trying to forecast revenue. We forecasted $10 million in revenue this year. We came up with a very logical plan to get there from existing clients and new business. As the year progressed, we found ourselves lowering the forecast because we felt the probability of hitting $10 million was less likely. Of course, as a business, there is a desire for a profit, so this might mean adjusting expenses. By mid-year, there was quite a bit of doom and gloom on our monthly financial call. At one time, I heard the owner say there was very little chance to get much new business this year. We had cut the forecast down by over $1 million. The following month, the call was much different as there were many new opportunities. Now the likelihood of hitting $10 million is much greater.
In business and in life, much of the good and the bad comes in waves. Life can be hard to script, but if we persist in doing the right activities, things will most likely work out in the long run, and sometimes even better than we think.
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” – Bill Gates
Objection #2: “If we think we are in control, aren’t we playing God?”
I am a Christian and have a very God-focused view on life. If you ever read the book of Job in the Bible, you will know that he went through horrible suffering by losing everything – his family, and his health. Nobody could console him, and his friends were of no help. He really didn’t do anything wrong, but it is a story of God testing him. I would never say we are in control, but God does want us to take action and use our talents for good. Otherwise, we are being lazy. I am in no way a theologian, and don’t want to get into a debate about predestination or free will. Christians are asked to have many qualities such as faithfulness, perseverance, patience, and self-control. These qualities infer that we have some control over what we are doing.
I believe God will give us more once we show we can handle what we have. There is a parable in the gospel of Luke that addresses this. In Luke 12:48b it says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Objection #3: “There are so many unknowns in this world, how can we know anything for sure?”
I agree that there are so many things out of our control. There are many “unknown unknowns”. For example, who could have forecasted the economic crash of 2008? Nate Silver says in his book that there were a number of people who were predicting this, but we didn’t hear them. Instead, most of the investment firms, specifically Lehman Brothers, who went bankrupt, trusted rating agencies like Standard & Poors and Moody’s. The rating agencies made assumptions and biases that were wrong. Now I know that hindsight is 20/20, but we can work to look at the numbers more objectively. Nate Silver has done a good job with this when predicting elections. When we get more data and make unbiased adjustments, we get better at forecasting our future.
Objection #4: “We must live in the present only because we don’t know if we will have tomorrow.”
As someone who lost my dad at 3 years old and a friend when I was 7, I know that death can happen at any time. I definitely am a proponent of living in the present. The challenge is that what you are doing now can determine so much of your future. If you have a good vision of your future, you can create a present that is more fulfilling and exciting. In Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward, he mentions about preparing a Eulogy now for what you would want people to say at your funeral. It is a very sobering exercise, but it does give you clarity of how to live today for your future. After you write your Eulogy, you then put together a Life Plan which details your current reality, the envisioned future, and specific commitment in key life areas such as spiritual, marital, family, health, and work.
I am not sure if we have a choice when it comes to forecasting our future. If we do nothing and just drift along with what others tell us to do, the media, or our own impulsive desires, it rarely works out as well as we want. In the midst of unexpected challenges, we control more than we think. How much we control is debatable, and it is a balance of moderation. We have to hold “control” loosely and be ready to assess and adjust at any given point.
If you want to learn more about forecasting for business and nonprofits, check out my book and audiobook Forecast your Future: How Small Businesses Exchange Stress and Chaos for Cash and Clarity.