I had a pretty intense experience recently…
For the first time in years –– possibly since I wrote them –– I went into old journals and reviewed my planned 5-year goals from ten years ago.
The years described were 2017- 2020 (written in 2012-2015). As I flipped through my journal, I got pretty emotional and headed down the stairs to share what I found with my wife…
Now my wife is used to seeing me cry from moments of gratitude haha. So she was her usual sweet self and patiently let me find the words to share my latest breakthrough while she fed our baby daughter.
Two things made me emotional.
First, I was surprised to see I had beaten or surpassed most of my goals. There are many ways to approach goal-setting. But I like to approach this fresh each quarter. So I don’t spend much time looking at old 5-year goals after I make them. I use the process as a launching board to capture my current vision for how I’d love my life to look in five years. Then I work back to what needs to happen in the next 3-12 months to move in that direction.
I was very gratified to see how things turned out.
Second, some of the goals, particularly in the beginning, feel small to my 2022 self. Everything is relative of course. And at the time, these goals felt ambitious. And this too was moving. It was like touching base with an earlier version of myself who was scared to write down some of these goals; even though many of these scary-big dreams were long ago surpassed and/or now a routine part of my life.
Now here’s one more confession: I’ve always had VERY mixed feelings about how personal development approaches goal-setting.
Clearly I utilize it. In fact, I still maintain (now more than ever) that this is a BIG part of any success I’ve had over the last 12 years.
But many spaces where this kind of visioning work is peddled feel a bit “manifesty” for my tastes. They’re often accompanied by inspiration-y bromides and inaccurate references to “science” and even neurology. So the core issue I have isn’t goal-setting in and of itself, per se. It’s the culture around it.
(Though perhaps I’m falling into the same trap as virtually all goal-setting systems: they all start with a straw-man argument as to why most goal-setting systems don’t work before outlining their personally preferred method, which in practice, isn’t actually all that innovative. *shrug*)
Now here’s a third takeaway.
While I achieved or surpassed most of my goals, HOW I did it was totally different than I had planned.
Some specific plans didn’t pan out. Like… at all haha. But many other (wonderful!) twists of personal and professional fate weren’t even on my radar when I wrote these visions. To the extent that I surpassed goals in various areas of my life, it was usually because of some unforeseen but fecking awesome opportunity that wasn’t yet a germ of an idea.
This once again enforces the central principle of goal-setting and planning in general.
Plans never work, but planning always does.
The less precious we can be about the specific path, and the less tightly we try to arm-wrestle the universe into our chosen route, the more space we create for serendipity to support our dreams as they –– and WE –– evolve.
If you haven’t ever done this kind of thing before, I HIGHLY recommend you give it a try.
Final note: like all skills, you’ll get better at visioning over time.
There are all sorts of ways to do this kind of “future-dreaming” work; different timelines, different prompts, different frameworks. You should experiment to find the right path for you. Just appreciate that you may suck at this at first. That’s normal. But if you do it consistently (I suggest every three months), after you’ve done it 5-10 times, you’ll get better. Your ideas will come faster, your vision will be clearer, and you will find your way to the right approach for you.
Setting a clear vision for your future does NOT guarantee it will happen.
But if you DON’T take time to identify what you really want?
It’s highly unlikely you’ll accidentally back your way into the life of your dreams.