You may have seen it. Perhaps you even have a poster or a farmhouse board with the old adage painted on it hanging on your wall. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” But what does it really mean? Can we actually plan for success with long-term goals? Do we ever plan for failure?
Drifting into a Profession
I didn’t plan on ending up a teacher. In fact, before I started college I distinctly remember my dad telling me, “Don’t go into teaching.” I don’t know if he meant it as a warning or a brilliant bit of reverse psychology.
When I saw the results of a career test I took my senior year in high school, none of the careers the test claimed best suited me appealed to me—lawyer or English teacher. Instead, I wanted everyone to see me on the evening news. I enrolled in communications classes and chose journalism as a minor.
By the time I finished college, I had changed my major several times—ending up with double majors in History and Spanish. Since I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to go to graduate school, with some vague idea of getting a master’s or a doctoral degree and teaching at the junior college or university level. Or maybe working in a museum.
Instead, I won a scholarship to study bilingual-bicultural education. I figured I might as well accept it. For five summers I had led the horsemanship program at a Christian summer camp. I enjoyed working with the campers, planning lessons, organizing workers, and keeping the stable in good working order. Maybe I would make a good teacher, too.
Along the way to obtaining my teaching credentials, I’ve added approximately five more years of college classes to my collection of credits. I managed to sneak in a master’s degree in English along the way.
Short-Term Goals vs. Long-Term Goals
Any rational person would look at my career path and wonder what in the world I had in mind. Not much, it turns out. In retrospect, I realize I had vague notions rather than plans or goals.
I knew people finished high school, went to college, and got jobs to support themselves. Marriage and family fit in there somewhere, too. When I wanted something, I set short-term goals to get me through the process. Setting long-term goals remains difficult for me.
I define short-term goals as something that I can accomplish within days, weeks, or fewer than 12 months. One of my short-term goals for last year took about five months—lose 20 lbs. Maintaining that weight loss and level of fitness will require constant maintenance.
Long-term goals require more imagination and may take years to achieve. I suffer from an impatient personality, which makes setting long-term goals difficult for me. Until I read Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy’s book Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want.
Hyatt and Harkavy suggest that in order to stop the drift (aimlessly moving through life with no plan—a good description of my life so far) readers should start by writing their eulogy. Writing a eulogy—how you want people to remember you—helps us understand our goals and priorities.
For example, I don’t want my friends and family to remember that I worked or birded so much that they can’t remember much about me. I DO want them to remember that I made them feel important and loved; and that I listened well, encouraged much, and spent quality time with them.
Once I realized what I really wanted, I understood I needed to change some of my habits and practices in the present. I need to intentionally develop and nurture relationships with others—something that doesn’t come naturally for me. Instead of wasting time on social media, I needed to prioritize my actions with my long-term goal in mind.
Plans Help You Achieve Goals
If you know where you want to go, it becomes easier to form a plan, and forming a plan will help you achieve success. By default, you plan for failure when you don’t have a goal and a plan.
Self-care means caring enough about yourself to take the time to plan. Planning differs from making resolutions (a useless endeavor), and you don’t have to wait until January 1st to start planning.
As you plan, you’ll want to make sure to include both short-term goals and long-term goals that fall into the four domains of our lives: Mental, Academic/Artistic, Physical, and Spiritual (MAPS). We achieve balance when we take care of ourselves in each domain—which enables us to take better care of those we love.
Hyatt and Harkavy point out something interesting about balance:
“We fool ourselves if we think balance means giving equal attention to everything in our lives. Balance only happens in dynamic tension. Balance is giving not equal but appropriate attention to each of the various categories of your life.”Living Forward, page 74
Goal-setting and planning help you form a framework for success—as you work towards your goals, you may discover richer and deeper goals that you didn’t realize you wanted to achieve. The goals belong to you, and you have permission to change them to suit your unique needs and passions.
How to Set Long-Term Goals
Think of your life as a house-building project. Long-term goals involve the framework and basic shape of your house. Do you want a Crazy King Ludwig-type castle? A modest house? Or a simple shack? You determine the shape you want your life to take by envisioning long-term goals. Christ-followers will want to include prayer and reflection in their long-term goal setting activities.Check out these four simple steps to setting long-term goals. #success #goals #newyear Click To Tweet
1. Write your eulogy.
How do you want people to remember you? Spend time writing a eulogy—what you want people to say at your funeral or celebration of life. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but take the time to make it honest.
The first time I did this exercise, I realized I needed to make changes in my life. Focusing on how I wanted people to remember me made me see that I wasted a lot of valuable time that I could invest in people and relationships. You can purchase Living Forward and let Hyatt and Harkavy guide you through the Life Plan process (I highly recommend this).
2. Compare your present with your future.
Once you’ve written your eulogy, ask yourself what needs to happen in order for it to ring true. If you want people to remember you for your friendship, but you have few friends, you’ll want to develop a plan for making and keeping friends.
Having 1597 Facebook friends doesn’t count (so maybe you need to plan in-real-life events and not just cruise through social media).
We all have an equal amount of time each day, week, month, and year. How we spend it differs greatly and determines how much we can accomplish.
Instead of feeling envious of your friend who wrangles five children, produces a weekly podcast, blogs, and self-publishes best-selling books on Amazon once a month, ask yourself how you can change your priorities to achieve YOUR goals.
If you want to write a book but work full time, you can still write a book. You just have to organize your time differently and prioritize what you do each day.
Michael Hyatt published a great book last year, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Get More Done by Doing Less that will help you reclaim your time. While written with busy professionals in mind, the book has plenty of wisdom for anyone wanting to do more in less time.
4. Make a list and check it twice.
Make a list of things that suck time out of your life. Social Media, Candy Crush, chatting around the water cooler, reading fluffy novels, or mindlessly watching multiple episodes of a program on TV. When we fill our lives with little things first, we have no room for big things.
This self-audit of time will help you understand how to prioritize your day so you can concentrate on the important things in your life.
It’s Not Too Late
Although I fell into the teaching profession more by accident than plan, I love teaching. The hundreds of students who have passed through my class have changed my life for the better.
But in order to have the house (life) I envisioned when I wrote my eulogy, I need to branch out and continue to grow in other areas of my life. Having a life plan with long-term goals helps me see where I need to make adjustments in my actions and what areas have room for growth.
I don’t have to drift and fall into things any longer. Vague wishes won’t cause discontentment and unease. I can plan the framework for my life and make sure I allocate the right resources to the right places.
If I plan for success, I might not reach each of my goals, but failing to set goals results in planning for failure by default. And who wants to plan for failure?
Come back next week to learn about setting short-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term goals.