I feel like the “Five Year Plan” is everywhere–it’s the new thing in personal financial planning (according to some bank’s commercial). It’s the subject of a common job interview question. China’s been in love with 5-year plans since the Mao days.
I can see how it would be a useful personal development tool and a way to make sure you’re living your dream life. Putting anything on paper helps to identify goals and create a visual map to achieve those goals. Since I really like lists and schedules as a procrastination avoidance technique, the 5 year plan idea sounds good.
Many personal five year plans have you work backwards. You identify where you want to be or what you want your life to look like in 5 years’ time, then fill in the intervening time with the things you need to do to get to that place. Highly logical.
It’s also a bit intimidating. I think as humans we have a nagging consciousness of how life can come in and screw with us and our little plans. So making goals years in advance can present a scary prospect–what if we fail, on our own or because of some unforeseen event?
So I am also intrigued by the idea of working the opposite way. What if you focus on things that make you happy and see where that takes you?
For me, it might look like this:
- classes or coursework in writing, computer stuff, homemaking/cooking, interior design/decor (clearly education is an ever-present option to me)
- yoga instructor training
- lots of travel and maybe a stint living abroad
Where might all of that take me? Perhaps to a Thai island, running a guesthouse where I offer yoga classes and travel services (and there would likely be excellent writing material from that scenario). Maybe some kind of freelance writing for the internet. Perhaps opening a lifestyle and home decor store.
I understand why the Planners work backwards. It could be dangerous to just say, “I’m going to do whatever I want right now.” It would be tempting to act with no consideration for the long-term consequences.
However, keeping a general goal of happiness could be a check on that. You won’t be happy if you’re broke or alone.
Prioritizing happiness creates accountability. It doesn’t make me happy, really happy, to eat lunch out every day. It does make me happy to save up to have a special meal with my husband that we’ll always remember.
Just look at my jars. Even the most money-averse of us can be financially responsible. If I decide I really want to take a course in one of those things I mentioned, I’m sure we would be able to find the money. With discipline, you just make it work.
I suspect that some people will much prefer the goal-setting method, not being comfortable with big unknowns.
For me, I know that I get bogged down by self-doubt and end up not starting something because I’m afraid of failure. Instead, when I just start moving on something, I end up surprising myself with both the enjoyment and my success (it’s the perfectionism-procrastination theory magnified).
Ultimately, a combination of both approaches would probably be most successful. It’s important to set goals. But it’s also important to be flexible and realize that life doesn’t always go as planned, like my mom said.
I don’t want to be intimidated by the prospect of not achieving my goals. I want to be inspired by and excited about the unknown future.
Which side do you think you fall on? Do you make 5 year plans, something like it, or have you found another method for finding happiness?