Why Long Term Planning Can Limit You In Your Life

Long term planning

What is your 1 year?  Your 5 year? Or your 10 year plan?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  How do you want to spend the next 20 years of your life? What’s on your bucket list?

These are all questions that we have asked ourselves (in one form or the other), and it seems like at least having an idea of the answer to these questions is universally sought.

A person who knows what they want out of their life has their head screwed on right?  They are going places, and they will accomplish things……right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to live, and in fact you could make the case that specific long term planning is actually a very limiting way to live.

What??? How could that be?  That’s what we’ve been told by every mentor, and “guru” that we’ve ever come across. Set goals.  Have a specific objective. Clarity is power, and if we know what we want we are more likely to get it.

Well that might be the case.  But a question remains:

Will we actually enjoy it when we have it? And if we don’t enjoy it, then what was the point of making the long term plan in the first place?  Could there not be another (perhaps even better) way?

I am living proof of this concept.  In my early twenties I made a very specific long term plan involving higher education and success in the “corporate world”.  I achieved my goals only to find myself discouraged and depressed.  I realized that I valued certain things (like freedom, risk, and creativity) that I wasn’t getting to experience on a frequent basis.  I walked into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship and have been remarkably happier since.

When I left that “other world” I didn’t have a specific long term plan.  In fact I rejected the notion of one.   I just wanted to live each day what I valued.  I stopped thinking about 20 years from now and started to only focus on now.  I wanted to live entrepreneurial freedom, creativity and adventure.   I want to communicate and contribute value to others every day.  Now every day I get to do these things, and I am happy.

The last several years I have seen things come into my life that I probably couldn’t have even planned for – experiences, opportunities, business interests, speaking engagements that have been wonderfully fulfilling, but that probably wouldn’t have been in the “long term plan” had I made one 5 years ago.

By not having a long term plan I have allowed myself to experience incredible things that I wouldn’t have had the foresight to even include in the plan in the first place. 

Allow me to make the case why specific long term planning can be detrimental to our life

1. In almost all cases, we underestimate what we are capable of achieving

We make our “long term plans” from the perspective of what we believe we are capable of.  In almost all cases we underestimate ourselves.  As a result our “plans” become limiting self-fulfilling prophecies. By not having a long term plan we keep the door open for an incredible future that we wouldn’t have even otherwise imagined.

2. When we are so focused on a path, we don’t look up to see the incredible opportunities around us. 

Having very specific goals may actually keep us from noticing a variety of opportunities that will come into our path.  If we allow ourselves flexibility in our approach then we keep ourselves open.

3.  It becomes very stressful – the pursuit – and we often are so busy “fighting for success” that we don’t enjoy the process

When this happens it is a shame.  All of us know people like this (perhaps we are, or have been, like this ourselves) – so busy achieving that we never stop to “smell the roses”.  People like this are boring, and not very fun to be around.  Overly ambitious, status driven people (in my experience) are also very internally unsettled as well.

4.  Failure becomes catastrophic – and a reflection of self worth – under this model.

When life is a mystery, an adventure, a wonderful engagement of uncertainty, then the odd failure or setback is merely feedback, even education.  But when we are “do or die” on our pursuit of success then failure destroys the meaning of the journey.  All becomes lost if we can’t achieve.  This is sad.

We set specific goals because uncertainty – for many people – is not an option.  Their brains can’t handle the entropy.  Driving it into a tight little controlled plan allows for a sense of “mental control” and this feels good.  Also, it seems like the “responsible” and “prudent” way to live life – and we all want to be conscientious citizens don’t we?

So what is the alternative, and why should we consider it?

Great question – I’m glad you asked 🙂

1. Understand what you value.  

What makes you come alive?  What makes your heart sing? Do you love creating stuff?  Do you love helping people?  Do you want to solve complex puzzles?  Are you a communicator?  Do you want a life of adventure and risk, or safety and security?

2.  Each day do what you value

Make sure that your life (and your career) is aligned with what you value.  That way you get to actually “experience” the things that are meaningful to you and your whole life isn’t about waiting – you know waiting to achieve, waiting for the paycheque, waiting for the reward. You want to be living – not just waiting. If you are doing what you value you will hit flow daily.  You will enjoy the ride.

3.  Do the very best in everything you do

Good work gets recognized.  When you get recognized you open the door to future opportunities (maybe even opportunities that you wouldn’t have even believed you were capable of had you been making a “long term plan”)

4. Work as hard as you can every single day

Work yourself to exhaustion, every day, doing the things you value.  You will meet the right people.  You will open the right doors. You will put in the time to achieve mastery.  You will overcome your fears.  There is very little that your life can’t have if you are willing to hustle each day.

5. Put your ass where your heart wants to be

Show up in the places (literally) that you want to be.  Talk to the people in the industries that interest you.  If you dream of having a business then simply start one. If you want a book, then shut up and write every day.  Do the things that you dream of.  Go out and talk to the people you dream of talking to.

6. Embrace the mystery 

Life is fun this way. Who knows what will happen in your life. Don’t feel the need to control every aspect of it.  Let it go.  Embrace the mystery.  If you live this way (while working your ass off every single day) you’ll probably achieve far more than you even believed you were capable of when you were making your long term plan.


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