This post originally appeared on my Wordpress blog (now inactive). I’ve slightly revised and updated it.
I’m not a planner. At least, I’m not the type of planner who feels happier with the weekend organized in advance, who can tell you what I’m going to be doing next week, who can tell you, without consulting my phone, that my son’s friend’s birthday party is next Saturday at 11 am. Now don’t get me wrong; I admire the people who have the calendar and the daily to-do list with everything written down, coordinated, and crossed-off. At work, I maintain my to-do list and watch my calendar like a hawk because I’ve learned the hard way how it will come back to bite me if I don’t. But organizing and planning just don’t come naturally to me. I like my weekends and other downtime precisely because I don’t have to be so on top of everything. And then I realize we’re out of gummy snacks again . . . But that’s an entirely different post.
So three years ago, when my life was in complete personal and professional chaos, I decided to give myself five years to recover. I didn’t write a five year plan; I developed a five-year perspective. Rather than setting goals and timelines for accomplishing things, I simply told myself that it would take five years for all of the changes in my life to shake out. In the midst of some really difficult life changes, I didn’t know where I was going to be in five years, but that didn’t matter. I had five years, after all.
This was the best gift I could have given myself. It gave me room, initially, to grieve and deal with the pain of ending a marriage, and divorcing, followed by changing careers. When I think about those first two years, I see how much of that time was simply slogging through grief. If I hadn’t given myself a five-year timeline, I would have been tempted to bury my feelings in an attempt to rush forward into making changes. Giving space and time to honor the grief and sadness caused by change is an important part of navigating life changes, and one our society doesn’t prioritize.
Having a five-year timeline for change also helped me keep things in perspective. I can be very impatient, wanting things to change tomorrow. And when things don’t change at the pace I think they should, it’s easy for me to get sucked into a cycle of blame and self-doubt. But with my five-year perspective in place, I reminded myself that I didn’t have to make progress any faster. It was much easier to recognize how big my goals were, and how unrealistic it was to expect to be able to achieve them within one or two years when I had a five year perspective. It also helps me to look back and see all the progress I have made. How much nicer to congratulate myself on everything I have achieved in the last three years than to berate myself for what I haven’t done yet.
And since this is a perspective, not a plan, I don’t have to create SMART goals and timelines that are unrealistic or that I won’t follow through. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t set any goals or that I don’t take time to assess my progress and make changes. For example, in 2016, I had the goal of launching my business by October. After working on my website, I realized that I wasn’t ready to launch. I revised my goal to 2017 and launched in April. A five year perspective provides me the flexibility to plan and revise without the anxiety and self-doubt that comes when I set timelines and goals that are very time-specific. It’s the five-year plan that works for me.
My friend and collaborator, Lisa Munro, writes that that the act of creating is like “building the plane while flying it.” A five year perspective gives me the time to practice radical acts of self-creation while in process. And this is what moves me forward far faster and easier than if I had attempted to map everything out beforehand.