Yes, you read that correctly. An 80-year plan. I had my career and life planned out to the age of 80. After that, I figured that whatever was left for me to experience would find me.
It was a pretty good plan. Several years in, things were playing out the way I expected. I was building the skills and reputation necessary to progress through the civilian ranks of the military. I could see every step I would take to achieve my work goals and I knew when I would add in a spouse and two children to complete the package.
(Yes, I really did think life worked that way)
I was encouraged in my plan by my manager, who had also been my mentor for close to a decade at that point. He built the roadmap for my development, providing me with the exposure and challenges necessary for the roles ahead. Looking back, at that point I was as much a passenger as driver in my journey.
One morning, I awoke with the realization that I only needed to put one foot in front of the other to achieve my goals. I had to work hard to get there, but I could see it all playing out in front of me. I just had to show up.
So I decided to pursue something else.
I decided that knowing every step of my journey was not what I wanted. Instead, I ditched the plan and started living. Without such a detailed roadmap.
I know now that life would not have played out exactly as I thought – but the vision that morning was so clear. I felt compelled to act – giving myself six weeks to begin anew.
It was not long before I went to the same manager and mentor and told him of my plans. It was not an easy discussion. He saw the same vision I did, and had years invested in helping make it happen. In this new journey, he couldn’t help me.
Managers, mentors and coaches all play a key role in helping us develop. Ultimately, however, it is up to each of us to own our careers and the steps necessary for them to progress.
When I left the Marine Corps, I took ownership of my journey. Has it been influenced along the way? Yes. But now I have several trusted advisors, friends and family members that provide me with input. A balanced perspective, ensuring challenging work aspirations are considered against a commitment to home.
Ultimately, however, the choice in where I go and how I get there lands with me.
Half-way through the original 80-year plan, I look back and compare where I am with where I thought I’d be. Though how I got here and what I’m doing may be different than I aspired to at age 19, I have achieved one goal I set those many years ago: to be a loving and present mom with a challenging career.
Though I may not be where I expected, the path to this point has been rich with twists and turns, unexpected surprises and joys that you just cannot plan for in life. Throwing out the plan, being willing to take opportunities as they come along, and setting shorter-term objectives and goals has been key to getting exactly where I was meant to be.
To those setting out on their journey, I’d encourage you to have your own plan. Not one for the next 80 years, but with critical goals you want to be sure you achieve in your lifetime. No need to plan out exactly when and how, but knowing you want something will help you grab it when the right opportunity comes along.
Fill in the plan with shorter-term goals that are more specific. It could be a particular role or capability, owning a home or becoming debt-free. For those goals, having insights and feedback from mentors, coaches and/or managers can be a great help. Knowing the steps to get there, with support if you run into challenges along the way, can make the road ahead easier to navigate.
Ultimately, no matter what the destination, the journey is yours to take.