The term “moonshot” originated with the Apollo program and the United States’ extremely ambitious plan to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960’s.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy put forth a daunting challenge to NASA and the American people:
“...I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
At the time of Kennedy's proposal, only one American had flown in space, and even many NASA employees doubted whether Kennedy's ambitious goal could be met.
While it was far from easy, we accomplished this extraordinary goal. Landing men on the Moon by the end of 1969 required the most sudden burst of technological creativity, and the largest commitment of resources ($24 billion) ever made by any nation in peacetime.
From Silicon Valley to the healthcare industry, we now use the term “moonshot” to refer to big ambitious projects that could potentially change the world.
Moonshots in Silicon Valley
If you pay any attention to the technology space, then you’ve probably heard about how some of the technological moonshots being worked on in Silicon Valley.
One of the projects under Alphabet (Google’s parent company) is simply called X, which is their “moonshot factory.”
Here’s how they describe a moonshot on the X site:
We start with a large problem in the world that if solved could improve the lives of millions or even billions of people. Then we propose a radical solution that sounds impossible today, almost like science fiction. Lastly, we look for a technology breakthrough that exists today; this gives us the necessary hope that the solution we’re looking for is possible, even if its final form is five to ten years away and obscured over the horizon.
Google X works on things like Waymo for self-driving cars, Makani to make clean energy for everyone, Project Loon to bring the Internet to the whole world, and Project Wing for automated aircraft deliveries.
Elon Musk is another leader in technological moonshots. He’s not only the founder of Tesla, but some of his amazing projects include SpaceX for space travel, Hyperloop billed as the 5th mode of transportation, and his latest Neuralink to merge computers with human brains.
Not to be outdone, Facebook has its own moonshot factory called Building 8. It's focused on "seemingly impossible" hardware in augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and "other important breakthrough areas."
Your Own Moonshot in Life
So what does it mean to create your own moonshots in life? It basically means going after something you’re passionate about, that may currently seem extremely difficult or impossible to attain.
Do you remember when you were a kid and people would ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Nobody ever said an accountant, or an insurance agent, or a file clerk.
No, you said you wanted to be an astronaut, a baseball player, a movie star, or the President of the United States!
Or how about the dreams you had in high school or college. Remember when you wanted to travel across the country, or spend a summer in France, or start a new business?
These are all moonshots in life. And just because you’re all grown up now or you’ve lived your life cautiously, that doesn’t mean you can’t still shoot for the moon.
Life Moonshot Examples
When you think about your moonshots, think about what you’re passionate about, what scares you, and what you’re not sure you could do. Moonshots are endeavors that are big and bold and seem somewhat out of your realm of possibility.
What’s the difference between a life moonshot and a bucket list item? Your life moonshot is much bigger than a simple bucket list item. Think of your moonshot like your life purpose, mission, or goal.
A bucket list item, while certainly worthy, is really just a one-off action item like visiting a certain country, going to the Super Bowl, or climbing Mount Everest. A life moonshot would be like moving abroad to live in another country, becoming financially independent, retiring early, or writing the next great American novel.
Here are just a few examples of what a life moonshot might look like. Use these for inspiration to create your own moonshot:
Who didn’t want to join a rock band or be a movie star at some point? The Arts offer a world of self-expression difficult to find in any other life endeavor.
Here are a few Arts moonshots:
Music: Learn to play the electric guitar or become a singer and start a rock band.
Acting: Take an acting class, audition for local theatre or student film roles, or just move to Hollywood and go for it!
Writing: Write poetry, create an ebook, or map out and write an entire novel or screenplay.
There may not be a more important life moonshot than trying to improve humanity. Here are some ideas:
Save the Planet: It’s no secret that our environment is in deep trouble. We may not be able to save it if we don’t act soon. Why not shoot for the moon on this topic and work on ways to reverse climate change, reduce waste, and find alternative energy sources.
Help the poor: Volunteer and donate your time and resources to help those in need. Feed the poor, house the homeless, heal the sick, and bring resources to those in need.
Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the most effective ways to become wealthy and financially independent.
Here are some financial and business-related moonshots:
Retire Early: It is absolutely possible to retire by your 40s. I retired at age 43 and share my story, techniques, and tips on Retire By 45. By becoming financially independent at an early age, it opens your whole world to work on other moonshots.
Start your own business: Creating a product or service that people want to buy is an extremely satisfying endeavor. You can start with a website, a blog, and a simple product like an ebook or online course.
Become a CEO or Industry Leader: You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to reach moonshot heights in business. You can also climb the corporate ladder and become a leader in your industry. Become the person people look to for leadership in your company or line of work -- CEO, Chairman of the Board, or the leading expert in your field.
Learning and teaching are two of the most noble life pursuits. The sky’s the limit with what you can learn and teach others, so pick your passion and go for it.
Learn new things: Enroll in school, take an online course, or read a book about the topics you’re most interested in. Learn about languages, computer programming, social psychology, or whatever you love. Challenge yourself to learn things that are difficult. Never stop learning!
Teach: If you’re an expert in a field, consider teaching or mentoring others. Move to another country and teach English. Become a mentor to a friend or colleague, or join the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Explore the US: We live in one of the largest and most diverse countries on the planet. Make a life moonshot to visit as much of it as possible. Rent an RV and really explore. Check out my blog post for the most epic US road trip for inspiration.
Visit other countries & Continents: After exploring the US, you absolutely must get out there and see the rest of the world. Make it a moonshot to visit as many countries and continents as you can. Book a trip around the world!
Live abroad: Taking world travel to the next level, by living abroad you’ll learn so much about the world and yourself. Live in short-term rentals for a year in different countries. Work as a digital nomad or make money teaching English to the locals.
Your physical body is the foundation of who you are. If you sit on the couch all day and eat junk food, you’ll never have the energy or ability to create moonshots in life.
Get in the best possible shape: No matter your age or existing physical condition, you can make it a goal to get into the best possible shape of your life. You just need to find the right exercise regimen -- something that makes you feel good and gets you moving. Lift weights, run, swim, bike, walk, crawl, yoga, Pilates, or whatever you can do!
Do a physical challenge: Train for and then run a marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, Tough Mudder event, yoga retreat, or any event that will seriously push your body and will power to your limits.
If you think you’re too old or out of shape, look at these amazing people: Tao Porchon-Lynch (98-year old yoga instructor), Ernestine Shepherd (80-year old bodybuilder), or Jack Lalanne (fitness guru who was doing 2-hour workouts into his 90s). My own uncle, Jim, is 73 years old and can do 30 pullups! Here he is climbing a rope in his backyard with just the use of his arms.
Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Public speaking: Almost everyone has fears of speaking in front of a large audience. If you can conquer this fear, it’s an amazing and empowering feeling to speak in front of lots of people. Find a way to make this happen -- at work, in your church, on a webcast or podcast, or some other big event.
Try out for things: Are you a fan of Jeopardy, American Ninja Warrior, or Survivor? Why not go for it and audition for one of these game shows. You can also try out for other local contests, events, or challenges. I recently applied for an 11-week FinTech Kickstart Accelerator program in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s a long shot, but sometimes you have to just put yourself out there.
Start a Totally new lifestyle: Move to a different city, state, or country. Live for a year in Spain, a year in Costa Rica, and a year in Thailand. Buy or rent a boat and live on that for a year. Quit your job and totally change industries. Think of this as your second act in life. Challenge yourself!
There are many more moonshots you can go for: adopt a child, ask out your dream date, or call a long lost friend or relative. Give it some thought and write down as many as you can.
How to Achieve Your Moonshot
How do you actually make these life moonshots a reality? Well, just like Google’s X projects, many of your moonshots may never come to fruition.
That’s why it’s good to select several moonshots (like Google, Elon Musk, and Facebook do) and go for them simultaneously. It may take years, decades, or even a lifetime, but these big life goals are well worth pursuing.
You don’t want to be on your deathbed and regret not going for any big life moonshots. The universe has a way of reminding us of this, like when I almost died from pneumonia or got Dengue Fever in Thailand.
When these things happen, it reenergizes me to live life to the fullest and go after my biggest passions.
The key is to do just one thing at a time. If your goal is to sell your possessions and travel around the world, start with a plan. Do the research and figure out how to get rid of your stuff and how much you’ll earn from selling it all. Next, map out all the countries you want to visit, look at short term rental opportunities, and figure out a reasonable time line.
Take one small step at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to your moonshot. If you need inspiration, think about your passions as a child, or imagine how your life could be better, or revisit Kennedy’s speech to Congress about why we should go to the moon!
Did Kennedy know exactly how we were going to get to the moon in 1961? Of course not, but he put forth that challenge anyway. Once it was out there, we found a way to make it happen.
In 1962, a year after first declaring our mission to put a man on the moon, Kennedy famously stated:
“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …”
You too can choose to do things that are hard but that are challenging and serve to measure the best of your energies and skills!