Does everyone need a five-year plan?

Cressida recently asked this question in the Straight and Curly Facebook group:

I was chatting to a friend today who said he was worried because he didn’t have a 5-year plan. I don’t have one either. Do we need a 5-year plan? I am sure Kelly Exeter has one! Should we plan the future and how much can or should we plan?

Step into my wheelhouse people!

Should you have a 5-year plan?

Look, the short answer is ‘Yes’.

But, I don’t believe a 5-year plan necessarily has to be about laying down a step-by-step plan for the future (it can be, if that floats your boat, but it doesn’t have to be), it’s more about having a sense of where you’re going in life.

And yeah, I can hear all you free-spirited Perceivers pushing back from here.

‘I don’t need no plan, I just go with the flow.’

What if I told you that you could have a 5-year plan and still go with the flow?

Because really, like pretty much everything I talk about, a 5-year plan simply comes down to values. What do you value?

  • Recognition?
  • Financial security?
  • Time with your family?
  • Travel?
  • Freedom?

Whatever it is that you most value, yes, you can get there by meandering vaguely through life. But you’ll get there faster if you have a sense of how you intend to do so.

Here’s how to achieve that:

Step 1: Look for tension

It’s so easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day mundanity and challenges of life and find that yet another year has passed and you’re ‘stuck’ in the same place. If you’re feeling that sense of ‘stuck-ness’ it’s most likely because you’ve lost touch with your values.

Getting clear on values can be hard. While our core values tend to remain the same, their level of importance to us changes over time and according to circumstances. Which is why you need to check in with your values often.

One of my favourite ways to identify values is to look for tension points in your life. Tension usually indicates something is pulling you away from what you value.

For example, a tension point might be the boss who expects you to be in the office till 7pm every night which means your kids are always in bed by the time you get home. If this is a problem for you, then you value family over work. If this is a problem for you but you’re not doing anything to change it right now, it might be that you value job security and providing for your family over spending time with your family.

So, your five-year ‘plan’ might be to achieve a level of financial security, or enact a career change, that means you don’t have to work for people who expect you to be at the office until 7pm every night.

Step 2: Make a plan – it can be loose or rigid

Four years ago, when my second child was born, I cast ahead five years to the point where she’d be full-time at school. My goal for that point in time was to be working only school hours. (I wanted to be there for the kids before and after school – and do all the drop-offs/pick-ups.)

That was my ‘plan’. There were no spreadsheets or milestones, just an understanding of where I wanted to get to.

The key to that plan is, ever since then, every work- and life-related decision I’ve made has been in the context of: Is this taking me closer to my goal or further away?

Having plans, even loose ones, makes decision-making easier.

Four years into that particular five-year ‘plan’, I’m nearly at the point where I’m working pretty much only the school hours. And I hope that by the time Mia starts school full-time next year, I’ll be right where I want to be.

It’s important to note, however, that my path to this point hasn’t been linear. There have been many deviations and detours along the way. But, because I’ve know for the past four years where I wanted to go, I’ve been able to get back on the desired path after every detour.

Step 3: Be prepared to be flexible

Five years is a LONG time.

This is good because if you have big goals or ambitions, five years might be a realistic amount of time to achieve those goals. But, a lot can also change in five years. The job you love might become redundant. A close family member might become sick. An opportunity might present itself that you never imagined.

Or, as mentioned above, other things that you value might take precedence. It’s all swings and roundabouts and if you pursue any goal too single-mindedly, that lack of flexibility is going to cause a lot of unhappiness.

Step 4: Enjoy the journey

While I think it’s important to cast ahead and know where you’re going, it’s also super-important to enjoy both the ‘now’ and the journey to where you are going.

Why? I think John Lennon said it best, and it’s something I have to remind myself of constantly:

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”