Take Your Life Back With the 30 x 30 x 30 Rule

The industrialist required us to believe in climbing the career ladder. Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

Here is a reason many people waste their life:

It’s because they do not use or leverage their past experiences. 

Instead, they jump from idea to idea, from career to career, from job to job on a whim, hoping their success will lie at the end of an imaginary rainbow. The dots align, but are never connected.

This approach is what I call a position-based career — all work and jobs are independent of one another. No experience builds on the next.

Much of the Industrial Era relied on this position-based thinking. We needed to be a good line worker because then we could be manager. Then maybe one day a junior manager. And then… wait for it… perhaps a senior manager(!)

The industrialist required us to believe in this ladder. In his ladder.

But in the new world, your environment should be focused on an interest-based career. There will be some jobs involved, but ultimately you’ll need to be aligned in work and activity you enjoy.

Interest-based careers require an extreme amount of self-examination, but it will ensure the jobs you get — even if you are hopping between different industries — have the same theme. After all, when what you do aligns with who you are, does it really matter what your title is?

Still, you might not know what you interests are. Maybe you’ve never even thought about it.

The 30 x 30 x 30 Rule is a good place to start.

The 30 x 30 x 30 Rule is a practice for testing new thoughts and ideas. If you follow this rule, you are significantly less likely to go down a road which will leave you filled with regret. Each piece of the 30 x 30 x 30 Rule is critical, and all are useful in determining whether or not you have found a true interest (as opposed to a creative whim).

Part 1: The 30-Second Shift

Every day, do 30 seconds more of what you are currently interested in and 30 seconds less of what you are finding less attractive. If you don’t move any further in the 30 x 30 x 30 Rule, this piece alone will help you find more fulfillment in your work and art.

You may not have 30 extra minutes in your day, but I guarantee you have 30 seconds. Be intense about this time. Cherish that 30 seconds and appreciate it for what it is. The next day, add to that 30 seconds. Now you are doing 60 more seconds of a task which has your full interest and attention. And just when you think you couldn’t possibly be happier, do 30 more seconds the next day.

When the 30 seconds compound on each other, you find more and more excuses to do what you love and less reason to allow your brain to float. Eventually, you will be forced to make a choice. Will you continue in this new interest? If so, how can you remove those activities which are less interesting from your life forever?

You do so like a surgeon — methodically, seriously, slowly.

Part 2: The 30-Day Trial Run

Every day for 30 days in a row, try out an interest which might be right for you. The best example of this in the writer’s world is a program called NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — is hosted every year in the month of November. Nearly 400,000 people gather for one audacious goal: write a whole novel in a single month. In order to complete this task, writers are encouraged to write 1,677 words every single day for 30 days. On that pace they will have written a 50,000 word novel by November 30th.

The 30-days-to-novel structure is genius for two reason. The first is simple. If you only thought you wanted to be a writer and get into NaNoWriMo, you might find out very quickly this is not at all the career for you. The days are long, the chair gets uncomfortable, and after flying through your genius first chapter, it becomes apparent making your characters do things for another 49,137 words is pretty difficult. Not only that, November is often filled with distractions. By the last two weeks of the month, Americans are faced with an onslaught of obligations surrounding the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This is why so many could-be writers drop out after the first couple of weeks.

The second reason for the 30-day sprint is less noticeable, yet probably more powerful. If a potential writer pushes through the first week on pace, she begins to realize — “I can do this!” The joy and exhilaration which comes from that epiphany is enough to drive participants all the way to the finish line. Some even make careers from the novels penned in that 30 days.

Test one of your interests for 30 days. This does not mean “30 days minus weekends” or “30 days if I feel like it.” No, you do your work for 30 days, every day, no matter what.

If you make it through and feel ecstatic, you may have found yourself a new career.

If not, at least you only spent 30 days on it.

Part 3: The 30-Year Examination

Once, I read a sentence Donald Miller wrote which changed my life forever:

“I hope to peak when I am 80 years old.”

Before I read this line, an 80-year-old human was just a concept. I pictured wrinkly, white-haired men walking around their garden and yelling at children who ruined it.

Miller changed my perspective. What if you planned to be doing what you are currently doing at age 80? Does the thought disgust you? Does it empower you? What if you had every intention on continuing to build a career which is currently in progress? What if you continued to nurture the relationships you had? What if you continued to do meaningful work?

Most importantly, what if you started to take steps now which could ensure a fruitful “retirement?”

Looking at tasks and chores through a 30-year lens should not make decisions more difficult, it should make them easier. Often, the answer to this question is a resounding “NO” because many people are not doing creative work which fulfills them on a daily basis now. Instead, they look at a job which has stopped challenging them and think something along the lines of “if I’m still doing this in 30 years, I might just jump out a third-story window.”

Living with a 30-year perspective helps add clarity to your interests and career. If you can imagine doing a type of work for that long, keep on doing it.

Otherwise, it might make sense to explore other options.

The 30 x 30 x 30 Rule is, of course, just a construct. Ultimately, it is your will which propels you to commit to an idea. The harder you work that will muscle, the easier it becomes to commit to an idea.

Once you commit, drive all other options from your mind. We will get into the “what if I want to do more than one thing with my life?” question a little later in this section, but for now, learn to eliminate other possibilities.

Ignore the “just-in-case” mindset.

Choose an interest, run it through the Rule, and then go all in.

Todd Brison is a three-time author who has been featured on CNBC, Apple News, and Inc. Magazine. His new book, The Unstoppable Creative is available here.

Take Your Life Back With the 30 x 30 x 30 Rule