Jonathan Hall

The Best Time to Do Something is 10 Years Ago

Jonathan Hall
The Best Time to Do Something is 10 Years Ago

I like James Altucher. He’s a great writer. I don’t remember if I heard it on his podcast or read it in one of his books or saw it on a blog post — it doesn’t matter. The best time to do something is 10 years ago.

He’s right.

Coming up with an idea is easy. Sometimes it just happens incidentally. Fantasizing on the idea is even easier. The euphoric results of execution are endless. However, execution is hard and most of the time never happens.

People are lazy.

And when it comes to achieving great things, people are even lazier.

I have a friend who took a semester off of college to focus on working and saving up money. He said he’d go back in the spring. That was 16 years ago.

He’ll never go back.

He says there’s no point in going back now.

He wanted to be a teacher. He probably wouldn’t be a very good one.

Before dropping out, he changed his major to computer science. He would have been great at that.

He works at a restaurant. He hates his job. He says he’s miserable in life.

Unmet expectations have created perpetual internal tension.

He’s learned helplessness.

He should have gone back 16 years ago — maybe even 15 years ago. Probably should have gone back 10 years ago.

You could say that he should find something else he’s passionate about or find the joy in the current situation he’s in.

True, but that’s not the point.

The point is, there will always be a million reasons why you shouldn’t do something. The time isn’t right, fear of failure, lack of perfection, too busy with other obligations, too much opposition.

The reasons why you shouldn’t will always outweigh the reasons why you should. Always.

There will always be obstacles. The only way to get what you want, isn’t to avoid or go around the obstacles. Rather, you must go through them.

If it’s important enough, you’ll find a way. You will create a way.

I like William Wilberforce.

In 1787, he began the arduous task of taking on the the British parliament to abolish the African slave trade.

He was hated.

He threatened the flourishing of the English economy.

He challenged the idea that Africans were lesser human beings.

He was despised by the Parliament elite and seen as a young immature nuisance to the orthodox status quo.

For several years he endured intense failure. He was consistently over powered by opposition. Other government obligations such as war with France and various domestic and foreign affairs took priority.

Finally, in February of 1807 — 20 years later — the Slave Trade Act finally passed.


Furthermore, two decades later, as William laid deathly ill in his bed, word was rushed to him. In a decisive victory, the House of Commons abolished slavery throughout the entire British Empire.

800,000 slaves were freed.

Three days later William Wilberforce died.

Determination, compassion, innovation all played an important role in his success.

The biggest reason he was victorious, was because he started.

The law of diminishing intent says, the further away you put action to an idea, the less likely you are to do it.

If you have an idea to start a non profit on November 1st, you need start on November 1st.

If you want to write a novel on January 15th, you need to begin outlining on January 15th.

If you want to mend the broken relationship on October 6th, you need to start on October 6th.

The law of diminishing intent isn’t prescriptive; it doesn’t tell you how to do something. It’s descriptive. It describes our inability to actually accomplish things. As the days start to accumulate, so too, do the excuses.

As for my friend the dropout, there’s still hope. I’m going to call him today and give him this advice:

Whatever he wants out of life, he needs to start now. It’s not too late.

If he takes my advice, 10 years from now he may be thankful he did. He may not be so miserable. He may have a career that he truly enjoys. He may be helping and serving others in a way that is truly magnificent.

I probably should have said this to him 10 years ago.