YESTERDAY morning, Christmas Eve, I sent a Word attachment in the group chat I share with my kids, ages 22, 21, 16 and 14. It is a template of some sort of planning exercise, a step-by-step guide to charting one’s path in the new year and beyond.
“Good morning, children. [This is something] I hope you will consider as we all look forward to the next year. I hope this will help you clearly define what you want and what direction you want to take. It’s ok if you find this corny or refuse to even read the file. You will realize its value in about 20 years.”
True enough, I got no overwhelming response to what I sent. I imagine there must have been snickers and shaking of heads. As I said, however, that is fine with me—although I still believe we must impart to our children the notion that we should seize control of our lives at the earliest instance.
What I sent is more than the usual list for New Year’s resolutions—which everybody seems keen on doing until he or she slides back to the usual habits. Here, there is no danger of that, because the plan is thorough and deliberate.
First, one must list the major categories or areas in one’s life. Common headings are family, career, relationships, finances, domestics, health, intellectual growth, etc.
Next, list accomplishments and failures in the current year. This forces a person to look and look hard at the good and bad things that happened this year—and, more than that, the key factors that played a role in the successes and the lessons that may be learned from the failures.
The task includes a visioning exercise—at this time, next year, how does one see oneself? At the end of three? At the end of five? The more specific the visual image, the better. How do I look, what am I wearing, where am I and where am I going? Am I busy, relaxed, optimistic, resigned to my fate? What is the nature of the smile on my face?
The core values come next. These are the non-negotiables that will define what one can and cannot compromise in pursuit of one’s objectives. Next, one is asked to look inward—identify strengths and weaknesses—and outward—opportunities and threats—in relation to the life categories earlier listed.
With all these laid out, one can now proceed to setting objectives for the coming year—and, more importantly, listing specific action points that would help achieve these objectives per category. If possible, the objectives should be measurable, and the action plans time bound. The three- and five-year goals however may be a bit less specific, and for so long as one has a general idea where he or she wants to be, and how the shorter-term objectives are aligned with these one should do just fine.
I have been doing this exercise for at least 12 years and so far it has done me wonders, enabling me to track where, and how much, I have progressed, and where I still need to do some more work.
In fact, during this break, I unearthed printouts of my old plans and I was quite amazed that, for the most part, I am now exactly where I just dreamed I would be. It’s gratifying as it is exciting. Just imagine—in three, five, even ten years, who will I have become? What blissful outcomes and surprises might there be?
One cannot, of course, plan everything. There are many things outside of our control, and we may not even be able to imagine what they could be right now. For the most part, however, the quality of our life is a summation of the big and small choices we make every day. We are responsible for our actions, and if our life is not as ideal as we would like it to be, we cannot blame anybody else and say we had no choice. Because we always, always do.
At the same time, planning improves our resilience to life’s blows. We may not be able to say when they would strike, and in what form, but we can always plan our disposition when they do. It does not guarantee we will cope better, but it increases the likelihood that we will come off our crises, not unscathed but stronger and with a clearer purpose.
At the risk of sounding like a prophet, I say this again—any plan is better than no plan. Life is too short. Time is too precious to spend staring into nothing figuring out what to do next. Perhaps the greatest disservice there is to our being human is to allow ourselves to be tossed into any and all directions. We have to claim responsibility and seize control of our destiny.
We live the life that we think we deserve: This is the best shoutout we can make to the Universe.