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The following is a conversation I had with a twenty-something who graduated college, worked for a few years and realized he wasn’t happy and had hit a dead end:
(paraphrased… but not much)
Grad: I’m going nowhere. I hate this job. My degree is useless and unless I get a Masters, I’ll be stuck here forever.
Me: So get your Masters.
Grad: I was thinking about it. But I’ll have to go to school at night while I work and by the time I get it, I’ll be thirty. (Said with the kind of disdain and despair that only a 20-something can muster for numbers greater than 29.)
Me: You’re going to be 30 anyway. You could be 30 in a dead end job or you could be 30 with a Masters. You decide.
It’s been… ahem… fifteen years since that conversation, and said grad has since gotten a Masters, run a business and travelled the world. He’s also made it past 30 without melting into a puddle of middle-aged goo.
I don’t know if he had a five year, ten year or any year plan, but he did have a vision and while I’d like to take credit for saying something so profound that it inspired him to get up and do something about his life, I’m pretty sure he just knew the truth of the situation, even if he didn’t want to admit it.
The truth is: time is going to pass whether we like where we are now or not, whether we know where we’re going or not, whether we know where we want to be at any given point… or not.
We have a very simple choice. We can act and create the lives we want or we can let life happen to us. Here’s how you can avoid the latter and take control of your destiny.
Start With Your Vision
We often hear about “the five year plan”.
Because it takes time to execute plans and reach goals so a two-month plan wouldn’t give you the time you need to realize your vision.
But too much time can be just as bad. A 50-year plan is no better than a pipe dream. Who knows what might happen by then and in a real sense, who cares? It’s too far beyond our sight line to be real.
But five years… that’s doable. You’re going to be 5 years older someday, so what do you want to be doing when you are?
The first thing you need to do is set a goal.
You might be aiming for a certain growth in revenue. Or envisioning a particular product launch. Maybe you want something as grand as cornering a certain share of your market or as simple as publishing your first book.
But you need more than a goal. You need a “big picture” vision of what you want to achieve – you need a “so that…”
For example, my twenty-something friend had a goal to complete his Masters within 5 years so that he could achieve a broader vision and open up his opportunities.
You may want to publish your first book so that you can build a name for yourself as a thought leader.
Or grow your revenue by 50% so that you can retire to a nice little corner of Barcelona.
The goal is the relatively short term thing you want to achieve. The vision is the big picture of why reaching that goal matters.
Your turn: What’s something that you want to do with your business (or personally as part of your business) that you can achieve within 5 years? How does that contribute to your vision? Fill in the blanks: “I want to reach [my goal] so that I can achieve [my vision].” Write it down!
Define The Actions You Need To Take To Get There
Having a goal and a vision isn’t enough. As far as I know, nothing grand has ever been achieved by waiting around for it to magically happen.
It’s work, it’s sweating, it’s trying and even failing and sometimes readjusting.
And it starts by setting milestones for yourself so that you don’t wake up in five years and ask, “So where’s my book….. oh crap, I forgot to write it!”
Milestones are the steps along your path, the smaller things you can measure to ensure that you’re moving toward your goal.
My twenty-something friend wanted to get his Masters, but he also planned to “complete 6 credits by July.”
If July rolls around and those 6 credits haven’t happened… it’s time to reexamine and readjust. At that point you can ask yourself why it didn’t happen, what you can do to correct course, and whether or not your goals are realistic.
That’s much better than waking up in five years and realizing you’ve made no progress!
The key to a good milestone should sound familiar. It should be specific, reasonable, measurable and time-sensitive so that at a set point in time you can look at what you’ve achieved, know whether or not it hits the mark and be qualitatively closer to achieving your bigger goal.
Your turn: What’s the first thing that you need to do in order to move closer to your goal? How soon can you achieve it and what will success look like when you get there? Keep charting a path and set milestones with deadlines that you can achieve along the way until you hit the prize. Fill in the blanks: “By [specific short-term date] I will accomplish [specific milestone].” And…. write it down!
Learn To Adjust
Just because you decide where you want to be in five years and even make a plan for getting there doesn’t mean you’ll automatically wake up one day to plant a big success flag.
Sometimes life gets in the way. Things change. New challenges arise. We change our minds.
Five years ago I had a fairly different vision of where I wanted to be right now.
In fact, I recently stumbled across some documentation that outlined a change we were making to our business and the end result was, in some ways the exact opposite of where we ended up today!
That isn’t a bad thing. Actually, if my next five-year plan goes… er… according to plan, it will be far better.
Our overall vision is intact – we know where we’re heading – but the five-year increments along the way have led to different outcomes.
But it didn’t happen arbitrarily. It happened because we didn’t lock ourselves into an unyielding set of goals and milestones. When we hit a brick wall in one place, we dug a tunnel somewhere else. It’s leading us forward, but perhaps not in the straight line we’d planned.
Your goals can change too. Your vision may even change. As long as you recognize that and accept change, you can adjust your trajectory no matter where you are on your path.
It’s not always something you can anticipate so I don’t have any homework for you this time! And I’ve found that it’s not particularly helpful to plan for the “what ifs” either.
The problem is that you don’t know what all the “what ifs” are.
The other problem is that you set yourself up for a set of limiting beliefs.
I want to grow revenue by 50%… but what if I can’t?
That kind of thinking has never helped anyone I know. Far better to be realistic about setting milestones then evaluate and adjust as you go.
Evaluate successes and failures as you meet them. Revisit your goals and your vision often. In fact, set a schedule for doing just that, so you don’t blindly follow a set of actions simply because “it’s part of the plan”. Then you can either stay the course… or correct course.
If you apply this reasoning to all your marketing and business plans, I bet you’ll find that you can achieve more than you thought. And in five years you won’t look back and say… now how did I get here?
Do you think it’s a good idea to have a five year plan? What are your experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!