how to set and achieve big goals

The five year plan: how long term planning helps you achieve goals

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This post is about a topic I’m really passionate about, but am still working to fully integrate into my life. I recently wrote a post about how to get organized, prioritize your time, and meet goals at work. While I’m all for ambition and delivering results in the workplace, if you aren’t happy at home, no amount of work success is going to completely fulfill your life. Since my husband and I aren’t giving each other annual ratings and bonuses, sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re moving in the right direction. Especially since life seems to fly by in a blink.

Now – I’m not saying everyone has to sit down and write out an annual goal plan with your spouse (oh wait – we did that), but I do think it’s important to occasionally check in and make sure you’re both happy. We do at least an annual check-in, and some long term planning to make sure we’re on the right track. If something isn’t working, it isn’t going to fix itself. Life is too short to be unhappy, so whether it’s a career issue, a relationship issue, or something else you can control – take the steps necessary to make a change.

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Career Planning for the Long Term

The man of the house and I have had multiple inflection points in our nine years together, most of them centered around our careers. When we met I worked in nonprofit, and while I really liked my job, knew I wanted to go back to school to pursue a career in business. Although business school was within an hour of where I’d lived, I ended up moving to be closer to campus – and hubby (then boyfriend) also ended up moving to be slightly closer to me. Although inconvenient, these were two major decisions we made so that I could make a career switch and we could still make our relationship work. After business school we again moved to further my career, which also meant a career shift for my husband. Our location change forced him to look at his new opportunities, which pivoted both of us in new directions.

Long term planning is critical when you're making big life changes. If you're only looking one year into the future you might miss an important opportunity that sets you up for future success. Here's how long term planning helps you make choices today that will help you achieve bigger goals tomorrow.



The First Five Years – Without Planning

Since we’ve gotten married and been living in Pennsylvania, we’ve blown through more life milestones, and although we maybe didn’t realize it at the time – these were all clear decisions that we made after we got married. While we never sat down and laid out a five-year plan, we did have planned phasing of key milestones.  However, if we’d done any long term planning, we may have been a little more streamlined in our choices.

When we moved to PA we had two mattresses, dishes and kitchen items, and two TVs in the moving truck. New bedroom and living room furniture were delivered to our condo before we arrived. I was coming out of grad school with a mountain of debt, and we were both driving ten-year-old cars on their last legs of life. We knew that one day we’d like to own a home, and eventually have a family. Being the planner that I am, with a healthy level of budget anxiety, I created a prioritized list of milestones to achieve prior to starting a family. This included multiple MAJOR purchases, including a house and two cars.

Our big life changes

Immediately after moving I started shopping for cars and saving my pennies to replace my eleven-year-old Jetta that was literally falling apart. We were able to replace my car that first year and save up for a down payment on a townhouse much quicker than anticipated. Initially, I assumed we’d do the car in the first year and use that second year to save for the house. Lucky for me, housing in the area is very affordable, so our ability to budget and save accelerated the purchase of our first home significantly.

We were then faced with actually filling said home with furniture, as well as replacing my husband’s eleven-year-old car as well. Those two things took about another year and included another job switch for Ian. We knew that we were getting closer to starting a family, and room for growth in the area he’d entered in PA wasn’t great – so into a new field he went. At that point, we knew we were ready for the big plunge – and decided to get pregnant.

The biggest change in our lives definitely occurred when little lady was born just under a year and a half ago, and while her arrival made things a bit more complicated, it forced us to prioritize what was most important and helped drive the value of long term planning.  

The importance of planning to achieve your goals

Now that we have a daughter, the magnitude of our decisions feels even larger, and it’s more important than ever to understand the implications of our choices. While we always attempted to steer our lives in a certain direction, having a little lady motivates us to continually reach higher, do better, and be clearer with what we want than ever before. I recently created a template that laid out a few big family decisions we’re discussing over the next one to three years.

Although a real decision tree has probabilities associated with outcomes, I use a similar format to scenario plan the inter-dependencies and associated next steps with a certain decision. Feel free to use this template to help start the planning process for key decisions and possible outcomes over the next 1-2 years. You can use it to outline choices, and to contingency plan if one outcome is chosen over another.

How change helps us hit our goals

We’ve had the good fortune to be in one area for five years, but that absolutely didn’t stop the massive changes in our lives. I’d venture to say that life today has almost no resemblance to our lives when we met, but the one thing that has remained constant is our commitment to reaching goals together. When we sit down and talk about our lives, we prioritize the big goals first. Each major change has been a stepping stone to our long term goals. Although the months and years have been flying by, we can look at each other and feel confident that we’re doing what we need to do to have the life we envision for ourselves in the future.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Where do you want to be in five years? Ten years?
  2. What do you want your life to look like?
  3. Are you doing the things you need to do today in order to have the life you want in five or ten years?

What do you want to be when you grow up? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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