The How-To: Building Your Personal Infrastructure
Infrastructure (noun): The basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.
Living in the amazing city of Dubai, we can almost be forgiven for taking the brilliant infrastructure around us for granted. Assume, for a minute, if Sheikh Zayed Road was closed for a day, or if the metro stopped working, or if the sewage treatment facilities, or telecommunication hubs, or the airport were to get intermittently interrupted. We have become so accustomed to having these services available to us that we almost don’t notice them anymore.
Yet, there was a time -not too long ago- when a lot of these were less reliable, or perhaps even non-existent. Sending an SMS was a big deal 20 years ago, and MMS was expensive (anyone remember MMS?), but today, I can scan a check on my phone, submit it via an app, and have the money transferred to my account in seconds. Building the infrastructure necessary to meet the requirements of a country is no easy task- look at all the countries in the world that know what they need today, but aren’t able (or willing) to deliver it to their people. Anticipating what a country will need in a year -or five years, or a decade- in advance, and investing in building it is a whole other level of brilliance and foresight.
In admiring all this that we are blessed to have around us, however, there is a big lesson to be learnt: to be world-class tomorrow, the time/money/effort investment needs to be made today. No project with a large, sustained impact can be built in a hurry. You wouldn’t live in a tower that was designed and built overnight, nor would you put your hardearned money in buying shares in a company that launched yesterday and went public today. Yet, you are investing all your effort, all your resources, and gambling your future -as well as the future of your family, friends, employees, families of your employees- on one investment: you.
You are today the sum total of your experiences and learnings over your lifetime, minus the lessons you have not yet learnt. Question: are you a solid investment?
To answer that question, let’s consider what a “sound investment” comprises. Besides the obvious financials, what else would you consider when buying shares in a company? Its history to date, its management (and their reliability), its performance and growth across multiple sectors, the clarity of its plans, its provisions for setbacks, its potential for scaling up… Now, if you were to score yourself on these factors, how well would you do?
The truth is, doing all of the above alone is tough. It would take a very special sort of person enjoying very unique circumstances to be able to accomplish it. Most of us have multiple demands on our money, time, and resources. From families, to work, to hobbies, juggling them all while still focusing on bettering ourselves is, well, hard! If we take “doing it alone” off the table, then we are left with two options. The first is -regrettably- the more commonly selected one: doing nothing at all. “If I can’t do 100%, what’s the point of starting?” There is enough logic there to reinforce a limiting belief, and, for some people, that is enough.
Another -smaller- group of people have a different solution. They don’t try to do it alone, because they know the difficulty, and they don’t do nothing because they recognize the price of inaction. Forthem, doing it well requires doing it together. They invest in their personal infrastructure, by building the channels to share information and resources, by creating systems to help prevent overwhelm, and by developing support networks to help them achieve their personal and professional goals. For them, there is no “if” when it comes to getting what they want to get- only “when,” and “how.”
If achieving excellence -personal or professional- is your target, and perhaps if you have already begun feeling the overwhelm of trying to do it yourself, here are five “personal infrastructure” suggestions that can help you succeed.
1. Fix the cracks
Where are you losing time, effort, money, and/or energy? These are precious resources, and losing what you need to keep growing is the best way to stunt your growth. Areas to improve on: have good time management systems in place, create and follow a personal budget, sleep and eat properly, and monitor your mood. Once you identify where the leak is, stop everything to fix it immediately.
2. Clear the drainage
While what we need is easily lost, what we don’t need somehow manages to stick around. There will always be wastage, and a good system has an efficient disposal mechanism. Cutting out the clutter in your life and work will leave you with more time and space to focus on the necessary. Some areas to look into, and work on may include: organizing your physical space, managing typical challenges, and learning to ‘let go’ of things beyond your control.
3. Have a majlis
In Arab culture, a majlis was a place where people would regularly sit and meet, both socially and for work. It was a place where the focus was on human-to-human communication. Today, we have such a massive reliance on technology that we are losing the benefit of real human interaction. Create a space -both physically and in your calendar- to meet with friends, colleagues and guests. No amount of emails can communicate the trust conveyed in a handshake, and no voice message can truly convey the happiness of laughter. Develop strong friendships, nurture them, and use the power of relationships to your advantage.
4. Build a “city of you”
The idea behind allocating entire areas to one activity is to boost chances of success in that focus area. Create a professional “city” around you, where every element is designed to help you excel. You are what you make of yourself, so from office spaces that you enjoy working from, to people who support you, each customizable ingredient in your environment should be part of your recipe for success. While there are some things that you can’t influence, you can definitely have metrics to track your professional growth (not just activity), carve out learning and self-development times, get a coach or mentor to accelerate your growth, and continually seek out constructive feedback. There is a huge difference between ten years of experience and one year experience repeated ten times.
5. Do a “happiness survey”
At the end of the day, what more do we want from life than to be happy? Stop and reflect on your life, look back at your journey at appropriate intervals (birthdays are a good one) and study your highs and lows. Gratitude for what you have today is powerful, and reflection on the challenges will help you prepare to face them in your future. Invest in your learning, your reading, and your health. Your days at the peak of your game are already limited by time, don’t allow them to finish any sooner.
In the GCC, Mecca and Medina are perhaps the only locations that had something truly unique. All the other natural resources that the UAE enjoys are similar to the resources of the other Arab countries. Yet, this country is leading the way in terms of growth, business success and quality of life. The investment made by the country into itself has paid back hundreds of times over, and will keep paying back. The people who take this same approach to life see the same results, and it is not just multi-millionaires and CEOs. All around us, there are people who have done and are doing what needs to be done to ensure their success. What we see is a result of years of efforts and investments. It is more than worth it. The takeaway to live by, in the words of Warren Buffet, is: “The best investment you will ever make is in yourself.”