Why I Don’t Have a 5-Year Plan

As a planner girl that grew up in America, I’ve been asked about my future vision for as long as I can remember.  “Where will you be in 5 years? What is your vision?”… And frankly, I truly have never had one.  Today I’m sharing why I personally don’t have a 5-year plan and how I live a life of intention without one.

This is another installment of my personal development journey – I’ve also talked about minimalism + a capsule wardrobe, embracing a messy (life) bullet journal, and citizenship in local elections

I’ve been asked the question about my future vision for myself as part of advising conversations, class and student group activities, development experiences. Even as a professional, I don’t know how to answer this question.  I actually quite despise it, and I don’t ever have a good answer for it, because it’s not how I’ve lived my life.

Why I actually don't have a 5 year plan, and am guided by different things instead

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I understand why people ask this question and use visioning as a way to work backwards and create plans to make those things happen. Creating concrete steps make it more possible to move forward, and people are rewarded for having these clear, concrete plans because it feels like they have their shit together, a direction.

In contrast, when I would be honest and say “I don’t know what’s next,” I felt like people would think I was directionless, lost, when actually I felt good about how I was living my life. I was still doing things that mattered, being involved, getting things accomplished – I just didn’t have an ultimate “end game” in mind.  It took me until this past year to get past the guilt and shame of not having a plan, but rather my own anchors and intentions.

Frankly, it seems pointless to me to envision one concrete vision for the future when I have no idea what is coming next, who I’ll BE, who I’ll meet, what new thoughts I’ll discover along the way.  None of my life has turned out the way I could have planned.  Honestly.  Except for going to college at the University of Minnesota. That’s it.

Why I actually don't have a 5 year plan, and am guided by different things instead

Supplies featured: A5 Leuchtturm dot grid, Crayola supertips, Zebra Sarasa 0.7mm pen, and a Pilot V5 Retractable.

The best word to describe my life would be that it has unfolded.  I’ll reach a decision point and have to make a choice of what I want to do – and it’s based on who I am, what I believe in, what I’m interested in at that point.  Once I choose, I am quickly able to lay down the plans to make those things happen in my planner or otherwise.  When I discovered that I could work in higher education, it was quick and easy work for me to plan how to apply and move to a new state – once I chose.

In this “life map” (mine or anyone’s), you don’t see all the things I said “no” to, for whatever reason.  The path looks very clear if you take out all of the options available! Throughout it all, you don’t see the difficulty of making those choices, or what I chose to give up to pursue one particular path.  What you don’t see is that I couldn’t have guessed that I was going to grad school, or that I’d be a teacher, or anything else. Those things emerged as I went along, following my interests.

This seems crazy because, after all, I blog about planning, right?! But for me, there are so many other things that come before I even get to the planning piece, the bullet journal piece.  For most of my life, I knew what I was supposed to do – from high school to get to college, in college to get to a first job or grad school, and so on.  Having a clear vision is sort of like that to me – there is a clear check-list of what I’m supposed to do.  But at some point, I have to wonder, who wrote that checklist? Are these my task boxes? That’s the hardest work, is to write your own checklist.

For some, having a clear plan and vision is helpful, guiding, and comforting.  For me, it seems very limiting.  In the openness, in what some call ambiguity, I see possibility.  It’s more about what COULD be rather than what I don’t know yet.  I am afraid that if I focus too much on one path, I miss out on what shows up along the way.  This is how it affects ME, and recognizing that has helped me be at peace with how I move through my life.

Why I actually don't have a 5 year plan, and am guided by different things instead

Given that, I have identified some of the things that guide me. Similar to my Career Development spreads, knowing what my values, interests, and anchors are help me make better decisions about what to do next.  This takes a lot of experimentation and your list will certainly differ from mine! That’s what makes it so difficult – only you can do the work.  These are the things that guide me – for now – and I’ll be open to this list changing as I learn more and more.

With these things, that’s how I can live life intentionally, purposefully, passionately, without being focused just on ONE Intention, Purpose, or Passion.  If you can be guided by these things, it doesn’t matter as much what your final destination is, but rather your next step.

Besides, a direct path is so overrated.

What do you think? What kind of planning do you resonate with more? Do we jive or do we differ?

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14 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Have a 5-Year Plan

  1. One needs a direction and work towards that direction. Five year period sounds random, not from the research, it could be as easily 3 or 7. I wonder if anyone has researched, if 5 year plan makes a difference or not. It feels ke it doesn’t.

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  2. This is the way I have lived my life, too, so I’m biased. I’m in my 60s, and it has worked out nicely so far! I love your concept of Anchors, Values, Interests. More useful than concrete goals for many of us.

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  3. I have giving up a long time ago of having long term plans. Life doesn’t seem to go the way that I want it to, so I just go with the flow. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have ambitions, I just don’t attach arbitrary deadlines to them.

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  4. I am 66 yrs old and a veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf war and after leaving high school in 1969 I had it all planned out for at least 30 years in advance , but after the first 5 years of working this plan I became a machine under other people’s or groups control and I found out the hard way that to much solid advance planning such as even a 5 or 10 yr plan could become unhealthy, so no I do not believe in those types of plans . Have a good solid foundation of values, anchors and good friends to help thru the hardest times and you should come out just fine.Oh yea, and a good strong faith based foundation to build upon. Good luck !!

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  5. I agree. No 5 year goals for me. When I was fresh out of grad school, a wizened old guy asked me about my career goals. It seemed like a safe question, but at 25 years old, I launched into a story about how I didn’t have career goals, and I thought they were nothing but unnecessary constraints. He was certainly surprised, both at my answer and my convictions about the topic. Life hands us such rich and diverse opportunities, and as soon as I think I can tell what’s coming, or where I want to be in 5 years, some opportunity pops up that’s not part of my plan. Rather, I want to live today and tomorrow making the best choices for my best self today and tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, my vision of my future will change, but that’s only because some great opportunity arises that changes my course, and changes it for the better.

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  6. I agree with the no-plan concept! As a 57 year old woman my life have been great so far and – more importantly – interesting and ever changing. Not having a “Masterplan” of my life have made me adaptable, openminded and curious. My life continues to develope and change even at my current age, as I’m about to change career (again) and start a (third) university education in a few months. I’m no hippie-dippie type though, I have a house by the sea, a garden I love and a family I’m close to. I do have a bullet journal and use it for budgeting, meal-planning, fitness-tracking and journaling. It’s a great help to not have to keep everything in my head. Thank you for reminding me to keep doing what suits me! I like the Values, Anchors and Interests page. I’m going to steal that idea from you! Keep up the writing and live well!

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  7. I don’t think I have long term goals per say, but I do have dreams to fulfill and paths to take. But those things are not rigid, they are flexible. Flexible is what keeps me sane. My Bullet Journal helps me crack down on those daily tasks, I have apps to track what I want to track. But where do I want to be in 5 years? Alive, God willing. 😉

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  8. Love this post! My boyfriend and I have discussed/argued over this concept many times. He is a strict 5-10-20 year planner and does not understand how I have found that just learning and determining my next steps as I live has helped me more than any 5 year plan could have. I never would have imagined I would be living in Iowa working for an arts agency when 5 years ago I was graduating from law school with an environmental and land use focus! Life is unexpected and beautiful and I need the ability to adapt and learn along the way without limiting myself to preconceived to-do lists! Thank you for so elegantly sharing your opinion!

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  9. Great post! I haven’t set any goals, but plan to start this year. One of them being, my 5 year goals. For me, it will work best if I loosely define them. If I don’t hit them exactly in the time frame I had given, no big deal. My plan is to review them often and adjust where needed. I will definitely share your post with my son who is set to head to college in the next two years.

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  10. Pingback: Five Friday Finds
  11. Your text was very insightful, I do agree with your views.
    I think it is good to have a plan, but only if we are aware it is susceptible to change. Just knowing what is important for me, and roughly what I want from life, is enough.
    Keep up the good work with your blog!

    Cheers, Joana
    jothemonster.com

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