3 min read

The Centenarian Compass

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This question was the bane of my existence when I was a kid.  I remember writing and drawing that I wanted to be a fireman in second grade just to get the teacher off my back.  In college, I went through the entire bulletin before arriving at Economics as my major through process of elimination.  In other words, it was the least boring.  This decision making, or lack of, plagued me for years.  How do you know what you want to be when you grow up?

I always thought I would find the answer once I got older, but I’ve realized that age doesn’t give you answers.  Staying with my parents for a year and a half during COVID made me realize that the security and stability I remember as a child was in actuality my parents sheltering me from all the decisions and chaos that they dealt with.

When I was a kid, adults had the answers.  When I became an adult, older adults had the answers.  Now I realize that everyone struggles at all points of their lives with shaping their lives.

These thoughts were on my mind during a long and aimless walk with Paul Millerd through Central Park, ironically discussing the Pathless Path.  The Pathless Path is Paul’s alternative to the Default Path of a forty-three year corporate career and subsequent retirement.  The Pathless Path is about “embracing the unknown and seeing where it takes me.”  It’s about taking alternative paths (freelancing, sidegigs, creator economy) without falling into the same traps of prestige and accoutrements as the Default Path.  It requires knowing yourself and living to that paradigm, exploring with curiosity.  It requires faith.  

I’ve always craved certainty, so I’ve explored the Pathless Path with trepidation, dipping my toes but leaping out of the cold water more often than not.  Since I rejected the Default Path I’ve been struggling with looking for a way to believe in, and embrace the Pathless Path.

Paul’s solution to the nebulousness of the future is inversion - he avoids activities that lead to a miserable life.  This thought reminded me of Peter Attia’s Centenarian Olympics.  Peter figures out what he wants to be capable of doing when he’s 100.  For example, walking up stairs.  Or picking up your great-grandchildren.  He then works out what exercises you would need to be able to do to accomplish that goal.  Then walk it back.  What would you need to be able to do at age 90 to be on track? Age 80? 70? 60? Etc.

What would it look like if you applied the idea of the Centenarian Olympics to your life?  Imagine what you want each aspect of your life to look like at 100 and then work backwards to what you could be doing now.  Your life at one hundred can be a compass, a Centenarian Compass, for your decisions now.

If you step off a path, you’re not necessarily lost.  And if you’re on a path, you’re not necessarily going to the right place.  A Centenarian Compass can allow you to leave the Default Path and venture on the Pathless Path with a little more confidence.

Resetting Expectations
The biggest obstacle between the Default Path and the Pathless Path is money.  In the Default Path, there’s a demarcation between working and retirement.  The default expectation is to save now so that you can do what you want later.  Working is sacrifice, retirement is enjoyment.  There’s an implicit assumption that you’re valuable when you’re working and not valuable when you’re not.  

Paul says “what Peter Attia is really doing is rejecting the default belief that so many people hold, that old means not physically capable.”  What the Centenarian Compass is really doing is rejecting that default belief that being old means not being capable of producing value.  

The Default Path assumes that to earn you need to extract value, but in reality, the act of creation is valuable, both to yourself and to others.  In your pursuit of your Centenarian life, you will start creating.  If you believe that what you create is valuable, then  “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life,” changes from a saccharine sentiment to something actionable.

The Benefits
If you follow your Centenarian Compass, you’ll see benefits.  Figure out what you want to do in the future and try it out.  You can see if it’s actually something you’re interested in.  You can see what the actual costs and time commitments are - maybe it’s possible to pursue it now, and not have to wait until you’re retired.

Obviously, your goals can change.   But finding something you love now instead of when you retire lets you commit.  And committing to something lets you compound.

My Goals
What do I want to do with my life?  I’m still answering this question.  But now I have a framework.  One thing I’m sure about it is I know when I’m one hundred I want to have a good relationship with my presently unborn children.  So I’m approaching every life decision with that goal in mind.  I hope every decision will be as easy as that one.