A Case for Planning Life

Plans and planning are a good thing, yes?

Lewis Carrolls’ Alice and the Cheshire Cat had a famous exchange  on the question of ‘how do you get there, when you don’t know or care where ‘there’ is.’

Or consider this:  “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans,” say the lyrics in John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.”  That is to say, if you’re not the one to map out your life, someone else will.

Or you can consider a totally different perspective, as Woody Allen famously stated: “Half of life is just showing up.” According to 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.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but some may see it as passive and an abandonment of future possibilities. (Let it be, to quote Mr. Lennon again.)

It is true though that 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.

Many people say 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 and many who offer their services to help you figure it out.  Or you can try it on your own, if your inclination is to do so, and you are motivated and disciplined enough to take the time and make the effort it requires.

A classic planning model – frequently used in organizations and easily adapted for personal use  is useful as your framework.

Note though: Just because the plan is simply stated doesn’t imply it’s easy to implement. You must invest several hours of thought, and it is also helpful to discuss your ideas with a trusted  friends and family, or your coach.

  1. Identify your purpose (mission statement). Describe 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 that are important toy and that you intend to address.  Recognize that your mission statement will change over the years.
  2. Establish a vision statement. Create a word picture (or even a visual one) of how want your life to be at various points in the future.
  3. 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. If your vision is longterm and your goals, mid-range (eg. 3-5 years into the future), break them down into short-term steps.
  4. Identify strategies you must implement to reach each goal. Your specific approaches will change as you engage in strategic thinking—particularly as you closely examine external and internal environments.
  5. 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.
  6. Compile the mission, vision, strategies and action plans into a Life Plan document. 
  7. Monitor implementation of the plan; update it, as needed. Regularly reflect on the extent to which your goals are being met and whether action plans are being implemented.  You can use a spreadsheet or graph to monitor your progress, adjust your plan and remain challenged.

In summary, if you haven’t already mapped out your life plan, you can start now by taking the first step. 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.  Or if you prefer a more right-brained approach, create a collage of magazine photos and words that express your vision and goals.  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. Just remember that by creating a plan, and amending it as needed, you can intentionally shape your life into your ideal version of it.

Content provided by Patsi Krakoff, Psy.D.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *