On Earliness

Image: Bonsai kabenzu, Pl.06/Artvee

“If you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, don’t even bother showing up, because you’re not going to get the job.”

These are the words my high school co-op teacher said, which really made an impression on me and my punctuality. Still, my partner and I found ourselves late for brunch (why do we torture ourselves?!), with lines to the most mediocre restaurants looping around the corner and reservations booked up. 

We decided not to get brunch. We’d get Italian instead. And as it turns out, Terroni just opened, and we were the first people seated in the place. I had a pizza I was very happy with, and we got to relax and eat instead of waiting in a ridiculous line for the privilege of overpaying to eat eggs.

I wonder if my co-op teacher’s advice rang true for that too. Being early for a meeting is good etiquette, being early to lunch is a good day, and being early to a trend or shift can change your life. 

Timing is a key part of success, but I’m not convinced most of us have a good sense of it. We talk about long-term planning, but it’s also about timing. I’ll give you two examples which you can influence:

In a Fast Company excerpt from Invent and Wander, Jeff Bezos writes, “When I have a good quarterly conference call with Wall Street, people will stop me and say, ‘Congratulations on your quarter,’ and I say, ‘Thank you,’ but what I’m really thinking is that quarter was baked three years ago.” None of Amazon’s leaders should be focused on the current quarter.” 

In a similar way, recording artist Kim Jong Kook says it’s nonsense when people say they’re working out for the summer. They need to prepare for the next year or the one after, and exercise imagining themselves 3–4 years from now. Losing drastic weight fast is unhealthy and unsustainable.

This type of long-term thinking is a valuable exercise, of course. 

For starters, it takes a sense of judgment. Is it too late, or is it still possible to be early? Do your own research, listen to the cases for and against, and then make your own decision. I do wonder whether it’s too late—for NFTs, for crypto, etc.—having thought the same thing in 2017. But that’s okay, too. What would I say to myself in 2025, that I would’ve wished I would’ve done more in 2021 that would make my life a lot better (or, at least, easier)? Look back from the future to the present, like it’s the past.

Based on the judgment, there’s also a commitment of time and energy to actually navigating to the place where you can be early. Are NFTs the only thing that matters for you? Is your creative work? Box CEO Aaron Levie writes, “Growth today is from decisions made years ago, execution that ramped quarters ago, and tailwinds that are accelerating now. Plant your seeds wisely!”

And lastly, there’s the capacity to sustain yourself while being early. Are you in a place where you can, like Amazon, afford to look years into the future without worrying about the present? 

Being early is nice, but being early enough is even better. 

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