So you’ve decided to write (and follow) a Life Plan! But what do you put in your Life Plan – and what do you leave out?
I’ve interacted with dozens of students as they’ve put together, worked on, and experimented with different kinds of Life Plans. Here’s the thing: they’ve all looked radically different. Some are very poetic and artistic. Others are highly organized, structured, and clear. Some students focus on very specific details, while others prefer to give their attention to the big picture.
Seeing this variation has encouraged me that there is no one right way to organize (or not organize) your Life Plan. The important thing is to have ownership over what you put on paper, because it means something to you. A great Life Plan defines your purpose, fills you with hope, strengthens your relationships, and challenges you to become a better person. Those are not necessarily correlated with filling in the blanks on a Master Form.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to jump start your imagination as you develop your own Life Plan:
Unpack your Aspirations
Have you ever asked an eight year old “who do you want to be when you grow up?” They get so excited. “I want to be a fire fighter!” (My unofficial sense is that, as honorable a career as it is, only about .5% of kids follow through with this dream).
You’re not a kid anymore. There are no ‘do overs’ with your life. You can’t replay the game. So spend some time and energy thinking about this question: who do you want to become? Write it down. Decide on a course of action that, all things being equal, will make those dreams more likely to become a reality. (Hint: to become a firefighter, maybe you should sign up for that CPR class).
Recognize Your Responsibilities
What are you responsible for? Who are you responsible for? I’m amazed by how fuzzy most of us are when it comes to these questions. A mentor of mine once defined maturity as ‘the ability to accept and fulfill responsibilities.’ To do this means you have awareness about what and who you are responsible for – and a plan for fulfilling those responsibilities in a wise and honorable manner.
If you’re married, as I am, ask your spouse: what would it look like if I was an amazing husband (or wife) for you? Give them the space to share what they really feel. You might not be able to fulfill all of their hopes and dreams (“I wish you could cook like Jamie Oliver”), but knowing what really matters to them is absolutely vital.
This is a great exercise: for parenting, for work, for friends, with volunteer commitments, and so on. You’ll have to exercise judicious discernment about who to ask – and when to thoughtfully intuit what your responsibilities should look like (Or you might get responses like, “Well, the best volunteers give 60 hours a week to our organization” or “Daddy, I want ice cream every night for dinner”).
Order these responsibilities in terms of their priority to you and define the top goals or values you have for each area of your life.
Look at your life honestly: what’s working? What’s not? If you secretly hope to do something good for an hour a day, but always get so intimidated by your goal that you never actually follow through, then that aspiration is counter-productive. A Life Plan is an opportunity to say, “You know what? My fantasy to work out for an hour a day is just that – a fantasy. But I am going to walk around the block after dinner every night.”
Maybe you are spending too much time on the Internet, or watching TV, or playing video games. What could you do with that time and energy? What are you so passionate about and committed to that wasting all of that time is no longer appealing to you? Use the development of a Life Plan to figure this out.
You can develop your Life Plan around minimizing the bad and maximizing the good in your life. If you spend a dollar a day for 50 years, that’s around $18,000. But if you save a dollar a day for fifty years, earning 5% interest, you’ll have about $80,000 in your account. That’s a $100,000 difference – just by minimizing spending and increasing your saving by a dollar a day! Imagine how your life could be better if you just cut out some of the trash and invested more time and energy in what really matters.
Be Inspired by the Best
Perhaps the most important advice I can give you is to find an inspirational quote to start and end your Life Plan. If you’re not a Christian, perhaps this is from a great work of literature or a beautiful song. What I have found is that a few passages from the Bible are the very best at resetting my moral and spiritual compass.
I repeatedly asked my late grandfather, while he was still with us, what he had learned from his very well-lived life. One of the most important points he always brought home is this stark truth: people are selfish. From an unselfish person who loved others well, had a sparkling sense of humor, and filled every room with laughter and grace, this was a remarkable insight. The older I’ve gotten, the more I treasure his point.
For me, the Bible has a unique ability to convict me of my sin and encourage me with the news that God loves me. It teaches me that someone – Jesus – has died for me, out of great love, that I might have life. What an exchange. God dying for humans! Out of love for us, though we have done so much wrong against him and each other. Remembering this essential truth of the Christian faith offers me a rebuke to my pride (‘God needed to die for me? Things were not going as well as I thought they were’) and a salve for my insecurities and fears (‘But God did die for me! I am truly loved!’).
There’s a lot more to say on this point (maybe you’re wondering if the Bible could possibly be true). The bottom line is to bring in some passages from outside your own perspective, potentially from the Bible, that both knock some sense into you and offer encouragement.
Keep It Short
The one essential piece of advice, whatever form you choose, is to keep your Life Plan short. If you can get it down to a paragraph, that’s amazing. I’ve never been able to get my Life Plan to less than a page. What I’ve found is that the longer it gets, the more complicated it is. Every additional word makes it harder to remember, harder to review, and harder to care about over the long term.
So remember the KISS acronym: Keep it Short. (See how I saved a word there?).
I’m sure you can think of other ways to organize your Life Plan. It is, after all, for your life. Here’s the thing: if you try something, and it doesn’t work out, you can always change it. Keep experimenting until you find a variation that works for you.
One way or another, be sure that a Life Plan aligns well with what is really important to you.
1. What do you need to put in your Life Plan?
2. How will you organize it? What are the key topics for your Life Plan?
3. What do you not want to put in your Life Plan, even though you really need to address that issue?