How to Manage when your Long-Term Plans are Vague

Most of the life advice I’ve read tends to focus on the “knowing where you’re going.” As the good ol’ Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going,you’ll end up someplace else.” Great. Makes sense. But knowing where you’re going isn’t always so obvious. Does this mean that those of us who don’t have a grand plan or a lifetime goal—that those of use who don’t know what we’re all about—are doomed to a future of wandering and mediocrity?

Well jeez, I hope not. In fact, I choose to believe that this is not the case.

The reality is, if you start talking to people, you’ll discover you’re not the only one without a 20-year plan (Even author John Green gets confused about what to do). Some people have nailed down what they want and are trucking towards it every day. That’s wonderful, but we’re not going to worry about them right now. So what do you do if you don’t know what you want? Maybe you’re just out of college, or maybe you’ve been trying different things for a few years and feel like you’re just running around in circles. If your lack of long-term goals has you struggling, then read on.

Aim for quality today, no matter what you might do tomorrow
The first thing to keep in mind is that just because you don’t know where you’re heading does not mean that what you’re doing right now is pointless. This is something I struggle with daily. Every time I question my long-term goals, I start thinking that I should quit my current project(s)/job(s), or that I shouldn’t try as hard or work as hard or that maybe instead of what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I should google “find your passion” and “how to figure out your dream job.” Do not fall into this trap! No matter what you’ll be doing one year of five from now, always aim for quality in your work today. You deserve it, and the people you’re working for deserve it. And if that doesn’t have you convinced, know that everything you do now is a stepping stone towards what you might do later.

Life is a serpentine stream, not a series of mulligans
Everything you do is connected, and no time is ever completely wasted. Are there more direct routes to certain outcomes? Theoretically. But deciding to go to med school at 37 doesn’t mean years 18 through 36 were a waste. You draw on your experiences, and having different ones from those around you just means you have a different set of crayons to color with. When you make a change, you’re not starting over from scratch, but building on your multitude of experiences.

Keep exploring, but don’t give up too quickly
With the “dream job” and “find your passion” movement at its peak, it’s tempting to believe there’s one magical thing out there that you’re supposed to be doing. While it’s important to find work we enjoy, it’s also important to recognize that we are complex beings, and that it’s unlikely there’s a single job out there that will fulfill our every desire. (And honestly, tying up all your dreams and desires in one job sounds pretty risky anyway). If you feel drawn to a new hobby, activity or career path, don’t ignore it! Explore it and see where it takes you. But don’t be tempted to throw everything away every three months, or when you start hitting a plateau. Passion often comes from mastery. By dropping new activities too often, you’ll never really give yourself a chance. And it’s about time you start giving yourself a chance.