Bill Gates said, 'most people overestimate the amount they can accomplish in one year, and underestimate the amount they can accomplish in 10 years. Jeff Bezos, found of Amazon, and now the richest man in the world, focuses on not having regrets at 80 when looking back at his life. Clearly, the very successful don't feel that success is something that comes quickly with little effort. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft are a testament to that. Amazon never turned a profit for many years, and is still being run in a way that worries more about long term growth than quarter to quarter results. Bezos is an expert at crafting a long term vision that sees it dominating dozens of industries, while seamlessly merging them, and using technology to eclipse offline retail. Amazons also dominates the infrastructure cloud space with AWS. While most companies of Amazon's scale are post-growth, and often focus on returning capital to shareholders, Amazon continues to invest heavily in the business in order to dominate new markets, and make new acquisition. I believe one of the key differences is Jeff Bezos vision of a long term play, one he can look back on in 30 or 40 years and be proud of. Clearly he has been able to convince his investors of this as well, and they are happy to just hold on for the ride, not expecting share buybacks or dividends for a long time.
Bill Gates on the other hand has moved away from the world for business to full time philanthropy. He and his wife run the largest philanthropic organization in the US which has helped fight polio and AIDS, and has saved millions of lives. Furthermore, he has secured hundreds of billions of donations from other billionaires through the giving pledge, a commitment to donate at least of their net worth to philanthropic causes throughout their lifetime.
Both of these very successful men have the long view in mind. They don't just sit on their billions, but are still actively engaged in making their money do useful things. They're not into get rich quick schemes, but invest in the future. There are many lessons we can learn from them.
For instance, it's persistence and the ability to see things through that pay off. One cannot build a success story overnight. There are usually years of work behind anything that is a lasting success. Bill Gates has been involved in philanthropy since 1998. Amazon is of a similar age, and didn't turn a profit for many years. Both have many projects and investments that have yet to be fruitful, and may never be worthwhile. Both take risks and fail a lot.
They both recognize that the worst thing you can do is never to try. While they have billions to throw behind ideas, and most of us do not, they make great commitments of time to their causes, something many of us do not. Most of us gravitate down the past of least resistance, and spend our free time watching television or aimlessly browsing the Internet.
To really succeed in life, it helps to really take their advice to heart, and look forward 10, 20 or even 50 years, and work backwards. While we may not be ready today to quit our jobs and start the next great company, or go back to school to pursue a new career path, we have to recognize that it's OK to have a plan that doesn't have to be fulfilled right away, and it's OK to start something that won't see results for many years.
Having a long view of your life also helps to give you some perspective regarding your current life. If you're a student or a new parent, and you don't have a lot of free time, recognize that these are phases that will pass. If you have goals that you don't have time for now, you can still prepare for them, and slowly work towards them. For instance, if your goal was to have your own business, but you can't put in the time required now, there are still many steps you can take to move you towards your goal, even if you're not going to take the plunge right now. For instance, you can save money towards the goal and invest it if your time frame is fairly long. You can learn the required skills, meet the necessary people and draw up a plan, and work at the next action required to get to your goals. You will always have enough time to to something. The key is to even small windows of time to work towards your goals, rather than simply waiting and hoping you'll find the motivation and the time later on.
If we're always just focused on the next day, month, or even year, we will miss a long term vision for our lives.