Putting together a Life Plan is an exciting process! Once you get going, you might feel a surge of energy as you dream about your future.
Pretty soon you’re cramming it full with your entire ‘bucket list’: go skydiving, write a book, visit Argentina, adopt a cat, start a bed-and-breakfast, and end world hunger.
At some point, though, you step back and feel overwhelmed and even discouraged by all your great ideas. “Oh, no. There’s no way I can do all of this.” Once you get to the “I feel overwhelmed” part of the process is when you know it is time to start cutting back. If you self-edit too much at the start of the process, you might short-circuit some very important dreaming.
So: What do you leave out of a Life Plan?
Start With The Obvious
The best place to begin is the easy calls. Be honest with yourself – what did you just write down that is unrealistic?
Let’s say you really, really want to go to medical school, but you completely pass out whenever you see blood. Barring some unusual workarounds, the likelihood of medical school working out is pretty low.
Another common mistake is being too specific. “Run four miles every day” is less helpful than “have a good workout every day.”
You also want to avoid being too ambitious. Save “every day” for a few very special commitments. “Three times a week” or “Once a month” is more realistic for most parts of a well-designed Life Plan.
Be honest with yourself, because your Life Plan won’t work if it contains unrealistic aspirations.
Examine Your Motives
Why did you put each item on your Life Plan?
Sometimes the first revision of my Life Plan has more to do with looking good, impressing others, and self-promotion. I wish that the first draft was about service and humility, but that isn’t always the case.
There are two basic ways to deal with these components of your Life Plan: remove them or modify them.
How do you choose between the two? Give each idea an honest look. Let’s say your #1 priority is “Go to medical school in order to become incredibly wealthy.”
Simply removing this might not be realistic. Perhaps you really are called to the medical field. However, if you change the priority to “Go to medical school in order to heal the sick and wisely guide the healthy” you have a goal worth living for.
Obviously, changing words on paper won’t necessarily change your heart. Maybe you’ll also need to commit to “live well beneath my means in order to give generously to volunteer medical work in Haiti.”
In other words, a Life Plan isn’t primarily about making your life great. It is about loving God and loving others.
What in your Life Plan is more about you – and what in your Life Plan focuses you on loving others?
Aim For Coherence
How does your Life Plan fit together?
Sometimes a scattered approach ends up working out. The love for skateboarding, international travel, and photography might lead to an amazing career in photojournalism for a skateboarding company. What seems disjointed to others might make perfect sense to you.
At the same time, an ongoing set of fits and starts, continually lunging in different directions, leads you to waste a considerable amount of time and energy. Life is short. Time is precious. Energy fades. To make a remarkable contribution to the world, you have to be remarkably disciplined and focused.
However you resolve the different parts of your Life Plan, think about how you are building a coherent, integrated life.
Remember: Don’t Compromise Your Calling!
One final caveat: as helpful as these pointers are, they could still lead you astray. Sometimes what God calls us to doesn’t fit into our ordinary boxes.
For instance, you might be called to do something that seems impossible.
It was on Sunday, October 28, 1787, when William Wilberforce wrote in his journal, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”
It took until 1833 before the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act – that’s forty-six years of perseverance against incredible odds. The first vote in Parliament, in 1789, was in favor of the slave trade by a 2-1 margin! The abolitionists and Wilberforce paid a high price to fight for justice, but it was a worthy battle.
Your Life Plan might seem equally daunting. But if God has called you to it, then don’t hesitate to go for it.
1. Who will you invite to read your Life Plan and help you make some strategic cuts?
2. How could cutting a few items from your Life Plan free you up to more passionately pursue what remains?
3. Is your Life Plan realistic, coherent, and focused on loving others?
4. Which elements of your Life Plan excite you the most?