You Can’t Plan Your Entire Life. It’s Not A Game of Chess.
You can’t plan your entire life. It’s not a game of chess where you can plan all your moves ahead or have a backup move for every thing. Motivational Gurus often ask people their 5 year goals, 10 year goals or even 20 year goals. Those who can’t answer that are considered aimless. We are given the illusion that we can plan out our entire life with extreme precision. You couldn’t be more wrong.
I used to think that I could plan out my entire life to minutest details when I was a teenager, but as I get older (and hopefully wiser) I have realized that in order to set 10 year or 20 goals with extreme precision and hit the target every single time, you need to be in complete control of your destiny. And the truth is you are not. You are only in control of your actions but not always the result of your actions.
The more resources you have and the more people you have the more your actions play a role rather than your destiny. This is because even if a person dies or quits the project, there are others who can take control of it and ensure its completion.
The more resources you have the more you can ensure that you take all the steps necessary to lead to a predictable outcome. Even if one or more resources fail, as long as you have the muscle power you still have higher chances of a predictable outcome.
This is the reason why the chances of a major Hollywood studio that hires famous stars and putting in loads of money striking box office gold and making hundreds of millions of dollars are much much higher than an independent filmmaker’s chances, which could pretty much be one in a million no matter how well he/she plans.
And even with hugely popular stars and loads of money, outcomes are not always predictable, which is why you have box office flops. The luck factor is always there. But chances of financial success are obviously much higher as compared to someone with no big star cast or millions of dollars in marketing money.
Goal setting works best when there is the will, the skill, the resources and a very very strong risk management strategy.
Have any of these missing and the chances of your goals being successfully achieved goes down. Even with all of the four, the chances of success are not guaranteed because the uncertainty factor can be lowered with proper planning but can never be zero.
Conventional, long term goal setting is great for an organization that has the will, the skill, the resources, a methodical approach to goal setting and a solid risk management strategy.
But on an individual level, extremely long term goal setting is largely a hit or miss game . Here is why.
You have no idea what will happen in the next 20 years.
You may set out with the goal of becoming a billionaire or a Nobel Prize winning Scientist or Author within the next 20 years. But most of the times, life will throw a curve ball at you that may displace all your plans.
Your business ventures that you thought would work out exceedingly well and become your stepping stone to becoming a billionaire may become a super flop and leave you with a huge debt instead.
The miraculous scientific discoveries you intend to make to win the Nobel Prize may never come across your way. You may make discoveries that are not that important or someone else who is much better funded may beat you to it.
You may experience a personal tragedy which leaves you extremely disadvantaged.
You may experience unexpected immediate responsibilities that may throw you off course of your goal. For example, a serious medical condition or the death of a family member.
The world may not reward your actions the way you expected.
What happens to your twenty year goal? Nothing, it goes down the drain.
2) You do not not know what you even want in the next twenty years.
Desires change, motivations change. What you wanted the most in high school is probably not what you wanted the most 10 years after that. In high school, being popular with the opposite sex and trying to look cool was probably the number one priority. After ten years, the number one priority is to probably get a good job or have a stable income. And if you have that, to find the right relationship for life. Twenty years after high school, it is probably to see your Kids do well in school and so on.
Having a dream that you desire with the same extreme intensity as you desired it when you were 16 is possible but uncommon. Most of the times, you will realize that you probably don’t desire it after twenty or if you do, you probably don’t care AS much as you used to.
How can a fire keep on raging once the fuel is burnt up? How can anything be accomplished if the burning desire to achieve it is no longer there after a long stretch of time?
And there is nothing wrong with wanting something else after twenty years. That’s human nature. You don’t have to keep slogging on for something that you don’t care about.
The point is this is why super long term individualistic goals can sometimes get vague and pointless because you may realize midway that you don’t even care about them anymore.
Here is what to do instead, set One year long goals at max and keep your approach flexible.
Goal setting certainly has its merits but on an individualistic level, it is better to set goals that are not too long term. I suggest setting one year goals at max. It is okay to have a long term dream, but only keep your focus on the year ahead. Here is why
1) You will probably still want what you want today after one year.
The reason is that the probability of you wanting what you want today after one year as well is quite high. Even if you achieve it, you would either have the desire to set higher goals or maintain what you achieved.
If you want to lose weight within one year, after an year you probably want to keep losing it or maintain it.
If you have the goal of getting to a certain income level in one year, you will probably still care about it in one year or want even more.
With 10 or twenty year goals, you won’t even know for sure that after ten years whether you still care about what you wanted.
2) The probability of a random negative event derailing your dream is significantly lower.
Theoretically the chances of a truck hitting you tomorrow and crippling you will always be there but the probability of it happening in the next one year is pretty low.
Random unexpected events that can can happen at any time but the probability of them happening in the next one year as compared to the next twenty years is quite low.
You usually not have to worry about dream de railers when it comes to shorter periods of time but over a long time periods the probability rises. So realistically, there are higher chances of you achieving a reasonable goal within the next one year than there of you achieving a huge goal in twenty years.
3) Short Term Goals will force you to be more actionable.
Long term goals often make you complacent. If you want to be a billionaire in twenty years and you are broke in five years, you will probably think, hey at least I still have fifteen years!
I once met a guy who wanted to be a screenwriter. I asked him by when he wanted to make his mark. He said, he wanted to be a leading screenwriter maybe after 20 years. I asked him, “Don’t you think that’s kind of way too vague? He said, “No, time is unlimited anyway.”
Anyone with common sense knows that time is not unlimited. Maybe time is unlimited in a cosmic sense but not in the life of a human. This kind of vagueness and extremely long term goal setting was only setting him up for complacence.
Mostly focus on planning for the year ahead (exceptions are always there but in most case planning for the year ahead is the best idea) and ensuring your actions are in alignment with that goal.
4) Short term goals make you more adaptable.
Like I said before, you are in control of your actions but not always the result of your actions. You may plan to represent your country at the Olympics but what do you do when you don’t even make it to your high school team? Or have to let go of that dream because of an injury?
With short term goals, you can be more adaptable. If you achieve it within the next one year, you can decide upon what to do next or whether you want to go higher. If you do not achieve it in the next one year, you can decide upon what changes you need to make much more quickly or to make a complete switch while you still have time.
In simple terms, if you have taken a wrong path to your destination, it is better to realize that after one mile, rather than heading 100 miles in the wrong direction and then getting lost in wilderness.
Most of us have been taught about the importance of planning and goal setting in order to achieve whatever we want out of life. After all, unless you know where you are going, how will you end up at your destination.
Goal setting has been shown to be incredibly useful when it comes to an organizational level as well. Man reaching the moon and various other progresses that we have seen in the 20th and 21st century are all results of goal setting.
There is one major problem with long term goal setting though. You can’t really plan life when it concerns a single individual. John F. Kennedy, the person who set the goal for Mankind to reach the moon, himself never lived to see that day.
No matter what you think, life is unpredictable and there maybe numerous things that may happen in the next ten to twenty years that may force you to change priorities. You may not even want the goal as much as you used to.
The truth is you can’t plan out your entire life 50 years into the future. If there is a God, only he/she can. It is thus much better to focus on goals that are much closer to the present day because then you will not only be much more motivated to perform because you can see the reward right in front of you, you will also be in a much better position to adapt and change course with changing priorities.
Most importantly you will learn to live close to the present moment and enjoy life while it happens instead of postponing your happiness in the hopes of a reward 20 years later that may not even come.
About the Author
Anubhav Srivastava is an author, speaker and the director of Carve Your Destiny, a first of its kind inspirational documentary featuring some of the most famous personalities from diverse fields. It has been seen by over 1 Million People on Youtube. Anubhav has also been featured in numerous International and India Media outlets such as BBC , The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Rediff.com, Leicester Mercury and many others.
For one on one consulting or a motivational workshop at your organization please email firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like to write a guest blog post on Anubhavsrivastava.com you contact me on the same email address.
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