Why a five-year plan is a terrible idea

I love planning.

Planning has many of the benefits of doing, without any of the risks associated with taking actual action.

You get to make to-do lists!

You get to play with calendars!

There’s the feeling that you are responsibly staying out ahead of whatever might come next, and the sensation, however illusory, of progress.

In other words, planning is THE BEST.

But someone recently challenged me with this thought: a five-year plan isn’t prudent, it’s playing small. It assumes that you can see how far you’ll go, from where you stand now.

For so many of us, that just isn’t true. Our view from where we are right now is limited … and limiting.

Think about that “10 years in review” thing that was making the rounds on social media at the end of December.  Think about where you were in January 2010, and about where you ended up a decade later.

I have a good imagination and a healthy sense of what I can accomplish, but I never — and I mean never NEVER — saw my own life playing out the way it did.

In January 2010, my son was just barely over a year old, and I was already pregnant with my daughter.

Out of the workforce, I despaired of how I would ever get back in.

I certainly never saw a path ahead of me in which I’d leave a major relationship, start another, move cities, eventually get the hang of co-parenting, spend five years writing for a world leader and end up in the hardest job I never thought I’d love: explaining the Canadian economy in words that people might actually understand.

If you had asked me to sketch out a five-year plan back in 2010, I’d have included none of those things. And not because I lack ambition or motivation or an embarrassingly large collection of Moleskine / Leuchtterm / Rhodia journals. 

I couldn’t see here from there. Not 10 years out. Not even five.

And so when people ask me — and they do, and that’s fine — where I see myself in five years, I just shrug and say, “I didn’t plan the last five, or the five before that, but I love where they took me. Let’s go do that again.”


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