“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
– Business philosopher Jim Rohn
“Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans,”according to John Lennon’s lyrics for “Beautiful Boy.”If you’re not the one to map out your life, someone else will.
Of course, you can listen to Woody Allen, who famously said: “Half of life is just showing up.”Per this philosophy, you get ahead simply by being present – a concept that certainly relieves a lot of pressure. It allows you to live in the moment, responding to what is rather than trying to shape your life. It also requires a hefty dose of passivity and abandonment of future possibilities. (Let it be, to quote Mr. Lennon again.)
But most of us want to influence the path our life takes to ensure we have enough freedom to express our strengths and talents. We want to control our own destiny when planning for our careers, partnerships and families.
Experts generally agree that you cannot achieve your goals without a plan or road map. Given the unpredictability of love, work and the lottery, exactly how much of your life can you plan?
What does a life plan look like?
A Google search yields millions of results. Myriad life-planning experts and coaches are advertising their services. But let’s simplify things and use a classic planning model you’ll likely recognize. It’s frequently used in business organizations and can easily be adapted for personal use.
One caveat before we start: Just because the plan is simply stated doesn’t imply it’s easy to implement. You must invest several hours of thought, and it may prove beneficial to discuss your ideas with a trusted mentor, coach, friends and family.
- Identify your purpose (mission statement). Describes your life’s focus. If you’re young and just entering adulthood, this step may be challenging. Imagine you’re approaching the end of your life, and figure out what you’d tell people about a life well lived. Your statement should reference your values and explore how you intend to spend your time at work, at home and in leisure pursuits. Outline the needs you intend to meet (community involvement is sometimes mentioned). Recognize that your mission statement will change over the years.
- Establish a vision statement. Describes your life at various points in the future.
- State the goals you must reach to achieve your vision. Goals are general statements that (a) define what you need to accomplish and (b) cover major issues. Your vision and goals may be mid-range (for example, 3-5 years into the future). Break them down into short-term steps, as well.
- Identify strategies you must implement to reach each goal. Your specific approaches will change as you engage in more robust strategic thinking – particularly as you closely examine external and internal environments.
- Identify strategic action plans or goal objectives. State the specific activities or objectives you must undertake to effectively implement each strategy or achieve each goal. Use clear language so you can assess whether objectives have been met.
- Compile the mission, vision, strategies and action plans into a Life Plan document.
- Monitor implementation of the plan; update it, as needed. Regularly reflect on the extent to which goals are being met and whether action plans are being implemented. Use a spreadsheet or graph to monitor your progress, adjust your plan and remain challenged.
If you haven’t already mapped out your life plan, take the first step now. Start with the foundation: your values, purpose and life’s focus. List all of the realistic ways to achieve your ideal life. Break down these steps into short-term goals, and make an action plan.
Write down your goals and action steps, and convert them into graph form so you can track your progress. Share your Life Plan with the important people in your life. Anticipate obstacles, and make adjustments. Never give up, even if you run into formidable obstacles.
Of course, changing circumstances and desires mean any life plan will need to be amended over time. The goals you have in your 20s are considerably different from those in your 40s – and vastly different from those later in life.
Don’t let life just happen to you. Shape it into your ideal version – and have a nice life!