“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.”- Jim Rohn
Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit confused and conflicted about what I want to do with the rest of my life.
I’m 49 years old. I’ve done a thousand things already. I still want to do a thousand more.
And as I’ve written before, this confusion is a by-product of my curiosity. I have all these great ideas, projects and thoughts that I want to see through, but I don’t have the time or energy to do it all.
Then, I chanced on a podcast on the Tim Ferriss Show where Debbie Millman recalled an exercise she had learned from a previous teacher and then modified: The Ten-Year Plan for a Remarkable Life.
This is a written exercise, where we free-write in abundant, colorful detail about how our (dream) life could look 10 years from now. The richness of the activity comes from its specificity.
I did this exercise almost a year ago now, and it breathed new life into the way I looked at goal-setting. I fully grasped the power of long-term thinking, as the exercise removed the superficial pull of the quick benefits that often tug at us. This freed my mind to imagine exactly what I truly wanted.
I have paraphrased and added some questions of my own, but the exercise goes something like this:
You are 10 years in the future. Describe where you are and what your house looks like. What is your livelihood? Are you a writer, still at your 9-to-5 job, creating your own business? How do you spend your days? Who are you living with? Who are your friends, and what do you do as a group? What clothes and furniture do you own? Do you have children? What are you doing with them? Do you own a car, a plane, a catamaran? What are your hobbies? Are you still playing chess? How healthy are you, and do you still do yoga? Are you involved in any community service program? How are you giving back?
Write in first person, and date the document 10 years from the day you do the exercise. Aim for a word count of 3,000 or more to capture the details. Write out all your dreams, wants, and needs. Write as if this is the life you demand. Dream big, as no one will see this 10-year plan but you.
This kind of long-term thinking goes against the current climate of instant gratification. I know it’s getting harder and harder to treat life like a marathon, especially as technology makes a point of teaching us that life is only a 100-meter dash, with rewards for the winners. The “bling ideology” of money, status and power has cluttered our thinking to believe that getting to 1,000 likes is somehow more important than building a practice or habit that can serve us years down the line.
We have now substituted life-long values such as patience, perseverance, and diligence with superficial qualities like popularity, self-centeredness and short-term success. We have eschewed good habits such as reading great books, walking outdoors, and having face-to-face conversations in favor of browsing the internet, walking on a treadmill, and using emoticons instead of words.
A few days after writing my exercise, I read a quote by Naval Ravikant (while scanning the internet).
He says, “If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day.”
This took me back to my 10-year plan exercise, and I thought of how Ravikant’s quote can work in every aspect of our lives. Specifically, I see this principle applying to five major arenas of life:
If we are not happy with the way we look, act, or express, then it’s time to face up, reflect on who we are, and start doing something about it. We are going to be with ourselves for the rest of our lives, so let’s not postpone the work we need to do—whether that’s in body, mind, or soul.
If we’re not happy with our jobs, then we must decide today to do something about it. If we are working in a corporate job and can’t see ourselves there in 10 years, then why not quit now, or have a plan to quit soon? I appreciate that we need to “put money on the table,” so it’s not always easy to quit on the spot. Even so, we can’t make that a long-term excuse.
Again, if we feel we are in a wrong relationship and we can’t see ourselves with our partners in the next 10 years, then we might as well stop it sooner rather than later. It’s often very clear that a relationship is not working or that a person doesn’t fit in with our life goals; it’s only fear that stops us from walking away.
I’d rather have a few trusted friends whom I want around me 10 years from now, instead of wasting my energy and focus on the ones who won’t be there. Examine why you are with certain friends. Is it that they fill a hollowness inside of you? Or are you afraid of missing out, and thus clinging to the wrong crowd?
Do you see yourself still pursuing your chosen hobby or pastime in the next 10 years? Whether it’s golf, chess or reading history, are these activities things that you see yourself still doing in a decade?
I understand that not all of us are clear about everything and everyone in our lives, but there are certain truths we feel in our guts. Some things and some people we can’t remove from our lives, no matter what we think, so we need to accept them and find them a place in our 10-year plan. Meanwhile, other details are easy to cut, as we know that they offer us nothing.
The difficulty is in the people and things around which we have a lot of uncertainty. That’s where the power of the 10-Year Exercise comes into play.
In my experience, if you do it today and make a habit of reflecting on your plan, then suddenly things will clear up.
Somehow, you’ll be living the way you always wanted to.
If we remain focused on the people and things we want, those things and people remarkably stay with us—even 10, 20, or 50 years down the road.