Why You Should Ditch Your Five Year Plan
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
It is a glorious day, and it is shaping up to be a wonderful July 4th long weekend. As I sit here quietly at my computer, I’m contemplating all the beauty that is swirling around my life, and how lucky I am to be alive. It got me to thinking about five-year plans and what an absolute joke they are.
The Five Year Plan. How many times have you heard the phrase? How many times have you used it as you visualized what you wanted from life? I can think of many times I reflected on my hopes and dreams, and surmised about a potential reality five years down the road. I recall a conversation with my husband in 2008, after the economy tanked, about our five-year plan to address what was a new economic reality for the our family and the rest of the planet. I suppose we made that plan so we could somehow feel a measure of control in the difficult choices we had to make, all the while visualizing a bright future that would be the result of our sacrifice and hard work.
Who hasn’t been asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years” in a job interview?
We all love to think we have this all figured out. And honestly, that is not a bad thing. There is a value in being organized; I love to think about the future and the strategies required for success.
But sometimes, that five-year plan can end up being one colossal bitch slap. Sometimes, things just fall apart.
I know what your thinking. You can’t just ditch the five-year plan. It’s what you’ve built your life around. It’s what you’re working towards. You are a grown up, you can’t wander around aimlessly without direction. That’s for the dreamers of this world.
I beg to differ and I want to tell you why.
Five years ago on this day, my five-year plan was intact. I had a wonderful family; two beautiful children, a big brown dog, a growing business, and a life peppered with good friends and laughter. Sure, we had stress, and life was sometimes very messy, but we had a plan.
And then we didn’t.
In the blink of an eye, everything changed. I was no longer the mother of two beautiful and healthy boys. I was a bereaved parent, a title no mother even wants to contemplate, let alone live through. I describe that period of my life as groundless. Tapping the floor looking for the damn rug that had been pulled from beneath my feet, only to find the floor was missing too. I could not think about a five-year plan, I was trying to endure the crushing pain in my chest with each inhale of air. I could barely think about a five second plan, let alone contemplate the future.
I will not deny it. It was the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life. And I continue to face it with each milestone, holiday, and simple family day. As a mother, you see your children as your legacy. You plant the seeds, and hope that they will grow to carry on the traditions of your family, to love their own babies as you have loved them. But sometimes, the best laid plans just don’t work out. Sometimes, you end up having to let them go.
And that is why I am telling you to ditch the road map. I want you to know that it is okay, that YOU will be okay.
I felt I couldn’t survive one more second, one more minute, one more day. The thought of looking ahead any further than a week made me feel physically ill. So I just surrendered to my reality. I did not give up, there’s a big difference between the two. I simply allowed life to take me for a ride, as if I was a leaf floating with the current down a lazy river. I did not fight my circumstances, nor try to drive my bus. I just inhaled and exhaled, and moved with the direction of the current, trusting that something larger than myself was navigating me towards goodness.
I will be honest, I cannot take credit for this mindfulness. I just had nothing left to give. But now, five years later, I am amazed that at the lowest point in my life, I felt more hopeful than I had at any other point in my existence. I opened my broken heart, and allowed life to lead me towards healing.
Let me tell you what happened:
I have been surrounded by a magic I cannot quite explain since the passing of Stephen on July 4th, 2009. I have had experiences that sound like something out of a book. (some of which are actually in my book) I have met people from all over the world, I have consoled, and in turn been comforted by individuals who have risen above some of the most horrid of life circumstances. I have been humbled by the courage of so many people who just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when nobody would blame them if they decided to stop. I have had conversations with butterflies and cardinals, blue jays and ladybugs. I hugged a horse and told him my most private thoughts. I am pretty sure he hugged me back. I have watched my youngest son grow into a remarkable young man, cheered at hockey games, laughed with friends, drove on Route One up the coast with all the windows down, belting out Queen songs. I have been open and brave, and shared what hurts, what scares me and what I don’t understand, only to find that I was not alone. I have looked each day for the “one little things” I could be thankful for….and each day, I found them.
Most of all, I have been awake. The past 1826 days have been the most awake days of my life.
I have been bewildered and elated as I sit and watch the JOLT movement grow, wondering where everyone is coming from, and marveling at the fact that over 100,000 people (aka JOLT’ers) from 50 different countries all show up each day to be grateful for the little things. I am thrilled to watch it unfold, reading that a young man in Iran has the same “one little things” as a mother in Ohio. We are speaking this universal language of life and love.
None of this could have happened if I held onto that five-year plan. I would have kept looking over my shoulder at what would never come to pass. I would have measured my life by my pre-July 4th scale, one of monetary stability and traditional definitions of success. And that scale in my new reality would never have allowed me to be happy.
Instead, life has taken care of the details. The quiet voice within has not steered me wrong, although sometimes even I wonder what the hell is going to happen next as I continue to spread the beautiful ripple of Stephen’s life. By releasing what I thought was my life plan, I was able to welcome this new direction and trust that everything would unfold just as it should, at exactly the right moment. And with each step, I feel Stephen smiling.
So, on this Day of Independence, consider releasing yourself from the constraints of the five-year plan. Let go of the self-imposed expectations you have for your life, and just allow life to take you where you need to go. It will not steer you wrong. Open your heart and listen to that quiet voice within. That is life calling your name.
I think the current is taking me towards a hot dog, and maybe some fireworks. How about you?
With love and gratitude to each one of you for floating along with me,
p.s. Here is just a few of the beautiful JOLTS along the way…