There are probably hundreds of books about goal-setting out there. The best kind of goal, of course, has a deadline for accomplishment.
Any number of motivational speakers or authors would probably emphasize the importance of creating a five-year plan, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a CEO of a Forbes 500 company. “Plan your work and work your plan.”
I used to buy into all that. I used to write down goals for various areas of my life, especially my online business. I’m not sure I ever wrote down a specific five-year plan, but I’ve always had a general idea of where I want to eventually end up.
And usually ended up either frustrated or laughing. (God didn’t need to look at my plans and laugh; I did it plenty all by myself).
I finally figured out that my life had become wrapped up in planning, to the extent that I was hardly living.
Putting planning back into its proper place
When you plan, you get out of the moment and live in an imagined, hoped-for future. This is not bad in and of itself. Some things need to be planned, such as special trips or big events. It’s a lot nicer to go on a vacation when you pay for the airline tickets a couple of months in advance to save money and assure yourself a seat, as well as to book a hotel and rental car, than to decide to do this all spur-of-the-moment and end up stressed out because you’ll have to fly on standby or every hotel and motel you call is booked solid for the next week.
In other words, it’s good to plan ahead for events you know are going to happen and are more or less within your control.
And therein lies the sticky point.
Some of us (commonly known as “perfectionists”) constantly live in the future. We think we can control everything, and if just stay in constant planning mode the chips will fall exactly where we want them to, rather than where they may.
But, I have sad news for myself and my fellow perfectionists:
You can’t control everything.
You can’t control how your children turn out.
If you’re overweight, you can’t control where your weight ends up – no matter what the health and fitness gurus try to tell you – when you set out to lose weight.
You can’t control the choices other people make.
You can’t control how your friends and love ones are going to change.
You simply don’t know how you are going to change.
You can’t control the global economy.
I could go on, but you get my drift.
Is it time to start living?
I now believe in macro planning. If you want to retire before you’re fifty years old, sure, make a plan. If you want to be published by a traditional publisher, make a plan. If you want to be healthier, make a plan.
But then, take action. Every day, take a step or three that will get you toward the goals indicated by the plan. Some days will be harder than others. Something might happen that will keep you from reaching the end result of the plan as early as you’d hoped.
Therefore, as you are taking action, keep your plan flexible. If I may wax cliché-ish for a moment, when a storm comes and hurricane-like winds blow, you want to bend, not break.
J and I made a plan to be financially independent by a certain year. The crash of 2008 shifted it by two or three years. Around age thirty, I planned to get novels published by a traditional publishing house. Technology and opportunity – and, dare I add, a big pile of rejection letters – pushed me in the direction of becoming an Indie author.
So I guess there are two questions here:
- Are your plans flexible enough that you won’t go into a tailspin when life happens? And,
- Are your plans either macro or geared toward not-too-distant future events that you can have a lot of control over?
If you honestly answer “no” to either of those, then the next question – the important question – is, is it time to start living?
It’s true that making forward progress on your life is difficult if you are so in the moment that your circumstances constantly dictate what you do. So some planning is perhaps not only helpful, but also necessary.
You have to find a balance. Everyone has approximately 192 waking minutes to their day. Most of them should be spent on living, not planning.
If you’ve been seeking more happiness, this just might be the key…