My life changed when I let go of planning. Firstly, I had to let go of the ‘big’ plans. The dreams I had for my life, for the future, of the direction I thought I was going in. Letting go wasn’t my choice. I am the definition of what we call a ‘planner’, and it was only after a series of painful life events leaving me at rock bottom, that I was forced to let go of ‘The Plan’. And you know what happened? Magic. A life filled with experiences that I could have never even imagined, let alone planned.
Should we make a plan for our lives?
On the surface, having a long-term plan for your life seems great, and throughout our lives, we’re encouraged to have goals. We’re given careers guidance at schol, we set New Year’s resolutions, we have ‘career progression’ meetings with our manager at work. Most of the systems and establishments around us encourage us to map out our lives and set out exactly where we’re going.
What is it about planning that feels so good?
1. Plans give us direction
When we know where we’re going, we feel less overwhelmed. There are, quite simply, less options available to us, and that helps us to know where to focus.
2. Plans make us feel like we have control over our lives
No one wants to feel like they’re floating through life, at the mercy of a series of external events that happen around us. Plans make us feel in control, and like we have agency in our lives.
3. Plans can prevent things from going ‘wrong’
If you’re prone to worrying or catastrophising, plans can seemingly work as damage limitation and help us ‘avoid’ situations that are giving us anxiety.
We can see that planning has its benefits, and we all know that awesome feeling when you reach a long-awaited goal. But most of us have also experienced the opposite – the feeling where you don’t reach a goal, where you feel miles away from getting what you want, where life hits you with some obstacles and you feel your goals slipping away.
We get so attached to our plans that we become blinkered and closed to opportunities. And we cause ourselves so much unnecessary stress by being attached to what we think something should look like.
The thing is, we can map out our lives as much as we want, and to a degree, it can be a great way to hold onto your vision, taking consistent action along the way. But one thing we can’t plan for are curveballs that will come our way. Some will be small enough to make us stumble, and others will come crashing into our lives, seemingly destroying everything we’ve built within seconds.
Curveballs, obstacles, tests, plot twists – whatever you want to call them – are a part of the human experience. We can be certain that no one gets away with avoiding these hurdles.
Plans & Goals vs. Dreams & Vision
Letting go of planning does not mean resigning ourselves to a life of perpetual directionlessness or having no ambition. The difference between plans/goals and dreams/vision is in the level of rigidity and attachment we have to them.
Plans & goals are:
- Definite, precise and time-bound
- Set in stone – they mark an ‘end’ point
- A series of concrete steps to take
- Head-based – we think our way into them
Dreams & vision are:
- An expression of our inner world at a given moment
- Based on our true values and nature, rather than external influences
- Fluid and ever-evolving
- Continuous, with no ‘end’ point
- Intuition-based – we feel our way into them
Goals have their place. They can help us get to where we think we want to be. But once life becomes focused on always getting somewhere, we will never find peace, and we’ll never truly be happy. When we have a vision or a dream, we know that whatever we’re going towards could change on a day to day basis. We stay open to possibility, to receiving, to learning more about who we are and how we want to experience life, rather than how we think we should be experiencing it. We can pivot and roll with the punches, knowing that any obstacles are pushing us to adapt, to listen, to follow the signs of the direction we’re being pointed in.
Start with the vision. And if want to, make a plan. But don’t attach yourself to the plan. Learn to listen: to yourself, to the world around you, and to the intuitive nudges that are speaking to you at any given moment.
And know that when the world is asking you: “What will you do next?”, you tell it that you don’t know. And that’s perfectly fine.