A Surprising Lesson From 15 Years Of 5 Year Plans

Just how predictive are these goal-setting exercises?

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Photo by Anthony Tori on Unsplash

Unpacking a ten-year-old moving box can yield interesting insights. I came upon a five-year plan I completed as part of a goal setting exercise in 2004.

The five-year plan is a staple in personal development seminars and a common trope in comedies — the movie Big Daddy comes to mind.

I’ve done several of these exercises in my adult life in various formats. Each one, even the most recent, was filled with laughable prophecies that defied rational thought.

Despite their questionable predictive value, I learned something valuable from my 2004 plan.

My ludicrous income prediction

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Let’s get this out of the way. My two million dollars per year income prediction proved to be grossly inaccurate. I assumed I would be running a successful business, so I guess it made sense from that perspective.

The funny thing is, I have no desire to run a business. I thought that I should want to do that, but I never had the passion for it. I’m not a people person. Managing others is a chore for me. I have colleagues who find it to be a rewarding experience. That will never be me.

Occupations that never materialized

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A sales business? I’ll be honest. I have no idea what that even meant. I think it’s what I thought was expected of me in that setting. I worked in sales at the time and left that job in 2005.

In my 2017 plan, I predicted I would be writing financial newsletters in 2022. I have no idea why I wrote that. I don’t recall that ever being on my dream radar.

My wow moment

The most insightful question from 2004 was more introspective. I had to list my strengths: discipline, love of learning, imagination, and creativity.

If I had to write about my strengths today, I would mention the same things.

None of my career, business and money predictions came close to panning out.

Despite that failure, I learned something valuable from reading my multitude of failed forecasts.

I spent the last twenty-five years choosing careers that did not align with my strengths and interests… and I don’t regret it.

I have always picked careers and jobs based on income opportunity. On the surface, that sounds depressing, shortsighted or misguided. I don’t regret it. My choices seemed rational at the time. I had bills to pay. And passions often have limited income opportunities.

The passion myth(s)

There are several theories when it comes to passion. The first one tells us that we should pursue a job that fulfills our passion — you can make money in anything if you’re good at it.

But can you make enough money? That’s what matters.

Like so many others have pointed out, pursuing a passion fulltime can leave you broke.

Mark Cuban wrote in his blog that we get good at things we spend a lot of time doing. It becomes enjoyable and then passion sometimes follows.

I know from experience that you can get good at something and never enjoy it. That contradicts what Mr. Cuban wrote. So be it. One man’s experience does not automatically become everyone else’s axiom.

Humans are hard to figure out

What works for one person may not work for another. There’s no all-encompassing rule when it comes to pursuing your passion. We each need to find what works for us.

What if your passion doesn’t pay?

Slogging through a job you dislike can sap your energy and spirit. Yes, I know there are strategies and techniques you can do to enhance your job happiness. It’s not enough. You still come home feeling drained and defeated. You need more.

A side passion helps you endure your day job. It might even make you better at it, knowing you have something else that fulfills you.

A few days ago, a woman from a local dog rescue organization came to our house. It was her job to approve our application to adopt a dog. She has a day job but she also fosters several dogs and vets families looking to rescue one.

From what I gathered, the agency only reimburses her expenses. That’s an example of someone who found fulfillment outside of her main source of income.

Some folks make a living doing what they love. Some of us generate a side-income. Others may not make any money at all. Does hard, consistent work guarantee you’ll one day escape the drudgery of a nine to five job? It’s possible, but we shouldn’t get too overconfident.

We’re terrible at predicting the future

All of my five-year plans predicted financial independence. None of my five-year plans included anything remotely resembling my current occupation. We are terrible at predicting the future. We’re much better at assessing the present.

All my five-year plans have agreed on two critical areas.

My strengths and areas of fulfillment have remained constant for at least fifteen years.

That’s where the value lies.

If you can figure out what you’re good at and what brings you fulfillment, all you need to do is act on that information.

I’m not much different today than I was in 2004. I still enjoy exploring new ideas. I’m disciplined, creative and imaginative. Writing allows me to explore ideas and exploit my positive attributes. I don’t care much for datasets, Gantt charts, or financial projections, but I battle through them at work without complaint.

Skip the five-year plan. Do this instead

If you haven’t found something that stirs your passion, you’re probably not experimenting enough. Explore various pursuits and discover what makes you happy.

  • Write down your strengths.
  • Write down what you enjoy doing.
  • Experiment.
  • Align your experiments with your strengths and pleasures.

Don’t dwell on it too long. Try something new. Quit the things that bore you. Keep experimenting until you find that one thing you would continue to do even if you were a billionaire.

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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