I was talking to a teacher I know and love last week about the future.
She told me that although things are on an upswing in her life, she had no idea what particular goal she was reaching for or how to start to think about the daunting - “Three Year Plan”.
I know a lot of people swear by the one, three or five year plans to keep them on track and I would say, if that is working for you then there is no reason to change anything.
In my experience however, after working with thousands of people on their life direction in some form or another, I have come to the conclusion that most of us cast our dreams and goals into the future and take on the task of breaking down the steps along the given time frame as a sort of security blanket. Our future “to-do” list gives us a sense that we are in control because we have a “master plan” and from there we can hide from the fact that we have no idea what is actually going to happen despite our best efforts and intention.
Is there anything wrong with this?
Of course not.
Physiologically you need points of stability and safety built into your life. You count on tomorrow with barely a passing thought and forget that each morning you open your eyes is a complete gift. Inevitably, life throws you a curve ball. It could be a diagnosis, the passing of a loved one, falling in love or a new career opportunity that takes you to another continent. When any of these things happen it always reminds us that we can plan all we like, but we are almost never in control.
Can You Live Without a Plan?
My friend relaxed a bit at this point. She wasn’t as concerned that she didn’t have a master plan, but she also didn’t want to go too far in the other direction and be carried off into a life she didn’t choose simply because she didn’t have an intentional direction.
I could relate to this rational argument, having oscillated between a very strict goal structure for my life (which didn’t turn out) and “going with the flow” (which didn’t turn out either). My personal solution and the one I shared with her was to find the best guiding principles for my own life.
Simply put, set some time aside and examine what your core, non-negotiable principles are.
Write them down, make a vision board, chant them or get them tattooed on your arm if you like- what matters is that you know what is most valuable to you.
Once these principles are crystal clear hold each and every life altering decision up to those standards and ideals and you won’t need to worry about being stuck in a life you didn’t order or waste five years chasing after something you find you don’t truly want once you get.
You need not hold tightly to a strict plan and feel shocked when life happens regardless of your schedule. You need not fear falling off course because you followed opportunities you now regret.
I am not trying to convince you to throw your three year plan out the window if you have it and you love it (and it is helping you, not stressing you out). I am trying to convince you to take the time to examine your deepest values and use those to navigate the terrain of decisions you are faced with along the way. Being anchored in your personal set of guiding principles means you can simultaneously be wide open to the possible directions for your next step in your life's adventure. That is a key to living a life of freedom and happiness.
What is your experience with long-term planning? When has it been useful, when has it been a waste of time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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