30 things before 30

I’m trying thirty new things every day for a month before I turn 30 . . .

#11: Create a personal five year plan

with 25 comments

One of the great suggestions on my to do list came from someone I feel lucky to have as a mentor, colleague, and friend.  She suggested that this is a good time in one’s life to to create a five year plan with key milestones.  She’s a smart lady and someone I admire and respect so I figured that if such a plan worked for her, I might as well give it a shot.

I did some quick research on potential purposes and suggested frameworks for a five year plan.  According to MindTools.com, making such a plan is useful for helping you:

  • Decide what is important
  • Separate the important things from the irrelevant or distracting things
  • Motivate yourself
  • Build self-confidence as you achieve goals

Each item seems like a critical piece of the “growing up and living life with purpose” pie.  I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on the first item (what I think is important).  It is the second piece (separating important and irrelevant things) that often presents a roadblock for me and yet seems to be the cornerstone to creating a real plan in the first place.

Now, I should be upfront here about my relationship to plans.  I make lots of them.  In fact, I feel out of control and downright cranky without a plan.  My problem with plans is that I always want to do too much.  I want to do the relevant things and the irrelevant things.  I can prioritize like nobody’s business but, when it comes down to it, I hate to take any items “out of the scope of the project.”  When I make a plan—whether for a bathroom renovation project, a social media strategy, or what to do when I’ve got family in town for the weekend—it often becomes bloated and unwieldy.  Rather than being a tool for success, the plan becomes just another thing on my to do list that (a) stresses me out, (b) needs to be revisited and revised, (c) is humanly impossible to achieve, or (d) gets filed away somewhere while I flail my way towards the goal I’ve set.  Learning to say “no” or at least “no, I can’t do that along with everything else, so I need to take some things off my plate” has been one of the toughest and most important lessons I’ve had to learn (both professionally and personally).  I can’t say I’ve become expert at this but I’m making progress.

So problem #1 is making a realistic plan that isn’t overloaded with too many things.  The second roadblock has to do with sticking to a decision; this problem seems to pop up more often in my personal life.  Aligning work tasks with the mission and goals of the organization I work for seems like a cakewalk compared to the basic task of coming up with a personal version of a mission that I can live with for any length of time. Last night I watched the flick “Definitely, Maybe” and one particular scene, which felt like it was ripped out of the pages of my own life story, illustrates this point. Ryan Reynolds, who plays father to pinch-her-cheeks-she’s-so-sickeningly-cute Abigail Breslin, gets set to whip up dinner for himself and his daughter when he stops to ask her a question:

So, are you a vegetarian this week?

His query pokes lighthearted fun while respecting her right to make mature choices about her own life.

Yes, I am.

The 10-year-old’s reply is honest and to the point.  She delivers her answer with a knowing smirk, letting us know that she’s not unaware of her fickle tendencies.  It isn’t consciousness she lacks; Maya just doesn’t seem to care that maybe last week she was eating meat and maybe next week she’ll pick up the habit again.  What’s important right now is that she’s vegetarian today and she’s not having any animals for dinner.

What does this have to do with five year plans and my life at almost-30?  I too was a vegetarian, though for more than a week (more like 8 years).  During that time I thought it was part of my lifelong plan to help save the planet by eating a diet consisting only of spaghetti and bean burritos.  That plan gave way to the “oh my god I want a hot dog now and I’m not going to feel bad about it because I haven’t eaten one in nearly a decade” phase.  And nowadays I’m on a semi-vegetarian bandwagon where a typical week’s meals might feature tofu, organic cage-free eggs, lots of locally-harvested greens, and a highly-processed cheeseburger and fries thrown in for good measure.  My family still pops similar questions to me every time I join them for a holiday meal.

Like Maya, I seem to be at peace with my goals straddling two worlds.  It is a priority for me to be conscious of the decisions I make about food (or insert any other kind of personal decision here) and to stay informed about how my choices affect the environment, the global economy, my health, my sense of what is ethical and moral.  But—and this is no small thing—my personal sense of happiness and well-being are important too.  These differing sides of the table sometimes, but don’t always, meet neatly in the middle.  It seems that the more open I am to the diverse impacts and meanings of my decisions, the harder it is to create a neatly bulleted list of action items and measurable goals.  The goal “become a semi-vegetarian” just doesn’t have that ring of grand achievement to it that “earn a master’s degree” (done) or “buy a house” (done) seem to have.  The older I get—or perhaps the more I accidentally and purposefully achieve—the harder it seems to make real, concrete plans about what to do with my life.

The truth is that making decisions is always hard.  But maybe that is why it is important to have a plan in the first place: so we don’t end up meandering through life, avoiding the tough choices and instead making lots of tiny unconscious decisions that lead us to no particular point.  Grasping every which way at the things that satisfy us that day, that week, those eight years, just doesn’t seem like the best course of action.  And if we have big ideas that we really want to achieve, we need some kind of map to get us there, even if we veer off the path every now and then or we change our minds about what our destination should truly be.

So, I’ve stalled long enough with my philosophical rants on the nature of plans.  Without further ado, here is a list of goals that will go in my five year plan.  I won’t bore you with the details of yearly benchmarks and individual action steps but I have made a promise to myself to work on them before my 30 days are up.  They’re organized roughly into the categories suggested in the MindTools article (which is worth a read).

  • Artistic:  Write creatively on a regular basis (at least once a week).  Maybe get paid for it some day.
  • Attitude:  Manage stress and anxiety more effectively.  Get to Yoga level III (advanced).
  • Career:  Direct a program or department for a great museum or similarly-missioned organization.
  • Education:  Complete additional graduate work, possibly (but not necessarily) leading towards a PhD.  Teach a graduate level class at a university. Finally (finally) speak and read intermediate level Spanish.
  • Family:  Play an active role in the life of my niece and nephew; take them to every Smithsonian museum in D.C. and the zoo before they’re 10.  Call my mom at least once a week.
  • Financial:  Pay off at least 2/3 of my graduate school student loans.  Reach 30% equity in our home.
  • Physical:  Keep my A1C below 6% and reduce wide swings in glucose levels to once a month.  Join a rowing team.
  • Public service:  Serve on the board of an arts or educational organization.  Become a hands-on volunteer for a hunger, domestic violence, or public health organization.
  • Travel: Visit friends in Rwanda.  See Michelangelo’s Pieta in person.  Dive the Great Barrier Reef.  (Note: I added this category!)

Phew, that’s a lot for 5 years!  But you already knew my plan wouldn’t be short-winded, didn’t you?  Now that you’ve gotten a (potentially too-close-for-comfort) peek into my life dreams, it seems only fair that I hear a little from you.  I’m curious to hear about whether you have a five year plan or some other mechanism for guiding your life in a certain direction.  Do you have a mentor who advised you to make such a plan or have you guided someone else to make one for themselves?  Have you written your personal mission and vision down on paper (or more likely, typed it up in a Word document)?  Do you revisit it on a regular basis to see if you’re achieving success or to determine if it is time to revise the plan?  What do you feel is the most important thing you get from making such a plan?  And how long do you plan to keep making new 5-year plans?  And if you don’t have a plan or don’t want a plan, why?

Lesson learned: Planning to make a plan takes longer than it does to just make the plan already!

Written by danamuses

October 14, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Posted in turning 30

25 Responses

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  1. Your niece and nephew look forward to visiting every museum with you!


    November 7, 2008 at 1:29 am

  2. Thanks for that Dana, I’m currently walking a similar road and found your blog quite helpful and insightful.

    I see it was written about a year-and-a-half ago and was wondering how it is all going.

    Ferdie Langdon

    April 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

  3. Dana, I hope you know that your blog on 5 year plans comes up for those of us searching for some direction. Seems to me that you are well on your way to achieving the plans that you set out to. I am 25 and starting for the first time to put my plans onto paper. Its amazing how we go to all those talks and meet people and read inspirational books about how to make goals, how to keep them, how to share them, how to achieve them but actually never DO them! Thanks for bringing me one step closer to my plan! P.S I really like the travel category – I’ve bought the books to plan my trips, have thought and dreamt but dont have a plan…..sooo happy to see its a catagory. How have you tracked on the goals you set yourself back in 2008? 🙂 Happy achieving on those plans!

    Amie O'Connor

    April 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm

  4. Ah never mind – just read your re-cap on 30 things page! You’re an inspiration! So what are the things you’re going to do before you’re 35? 😀 Don’t stop blogging – people like us out here need to hear from inspirational people like you!

    Amie O'Connor

    April 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm

  5. Very helpful. I am an student at The Academy Of Contempory Music. I have many dreams aswell. I was advised to make a five year plan by my head of Business ‘Helen Gammons’. I am a Singer-Songwriter/ Entrepeneur/ Actor and love to dance aswell . Having things written down on paper is helping to shape my future and my beliefs!
    Another thing to do is a Swot, Pest and Economic analysist. It is interesting to look into these areas aswell! They use these in business. You might already know about these!

    Nicholas Howe

    August 11, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  6. […] Create A Personal Five Year Plan […]

  7. hey how is your five year plan going? how many things did you accomplish? im 23yrs old and about to buy my first home. I really want to be successful in life and happy. im not bothered by material things but want to have a sence of achievement. write back 🙂


    January 20, 2012 at 10:46 am

  8. I’am 46 and living in cyprus.I will be moving back to the UK in a few month and reading your blog has helped me immensely . With a good plan and the strength it is possible to reach your goals.Thank you.


    May 27, 2012 at 4:43 pm

  9. Little mistakes like this can be avoided if you read back what you have written. Lesson 1.


    May 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  10. Hello my name is donna.i am trying to find myself and sort out a five year plan for myself.this is the first time i have done something like this and really want to sart sorting out my life,just like u i kind of need to sort the relivant from the erelivant and really like how you have expland about a five year plan it has helpd me design my own.

    donna swarbrick

    October 8, 2012 at 3:00 am

  11. Sam
    hello guys in this year i have a plane to kill my self


    March 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm

  12. Reblogged this on blazonmag and commented:
    Just Do It


    March 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

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  15. this is really helpful and insightful information


    June 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

  16. I really appteciate this article wad awesome.
    I wish I would have had a mentor and coach to show me these things earlier in my young adult years. I’ve always been a person with goals and aspirations; however Ive never sat down and wrote out a 5 yr plan and worked at it everyday to accomplish it. It makes all the sesne gon the world, but without a plan and follow through you’ll never achieve you

    Ernest Miller

    May 24, 2014 at 11:31 am

  17. When you’re 50 like me, and a woman, your 5 year goals are much different. Everyones’ journey is their own and should be celebrated. When you’re young, 5 years is nothing. But when you get older, 5 years becomes a benchmark for your life. Going through a midlife crisis for the 3rd time, (the first when I was 35), you start to get real with yourself and your life. I wish I had taken the 5 year goals more seriously when I was younger, but then don’t they say, ” youth is wasted on the young?” Now I know. Thankfully with age comes wisdom.

    Rebecca Rhode

    August 10, 2015 at 2:13 am

  18. […] got the idea for a one year plan from 30 Things Under Thirty. It really stuck with me that she had mapped out where she expected to be with different aspects of […]

  19. […] got the idea for a one year plan from 30 Things Under Thirty. It really stuck with me that she had mapped out where she expected to be with different aspects of […]

    Making a One Year Plan

    August 17, 2016 at 10:06 am

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    Dorie Renova

    February 4, 2018 at 10:34 am

  21. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me. Thanks!

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    January 26, 2019 at 8:45 am

  22. […] Create A Personal Five Year Plan […]

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    December 22, 2020 at 4:35 pm

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