Best made plans
December 31, 2012 5:36 AM   Subscribe

How do you come up with a life plan that actually works?

'Tis the season to be uncertain. Except that, truth be told, I've been uncertain about what I'm doing for about a year and a half. I've never been the kind of person to have a grand plan and now I don't know how to think about the future. Things aren't terrible: I'm keeping my head above water financially, even able to put some money away, but I'm 25 and living off oddjobs. People around me are building lives and careers and though I'm constantly busy, constantly trying to put myself out there into different situations and places, nothing seems to stick. Basically, I feel like a ball of unspent potential, wrapped in on itself. And I don't know how to change that.

I am seeing a therapist, have been for the past 10 months, and that does help, but overall I'm lacking an idea of where it is I should be heading. Things are a mess and I don't have the perspective to set them straight.

So my question is how to do get over and above that feeling of being lost and confused and create some kind of life plan.

Short personal history if that has any baring, graduated two years back with a good degree in a field I didn't want to get into, been fumbling since. Currently working as a tutor and a tour guide, will be trying to see about working in radio in the new year, but no clear direction other than 'well, this might be interesting'. Used to think being a writer would work and I still write, but realised a few months back that the kind of writer's lifestyle (precarious, alone) wouldn't work for me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
If you can't find a career that is the pinnacle of personal satisfaction, whether it's because you can't think of one or because there are too many options to choose from, just pick something you are good at and use it to fund the rest of your life.
posted by gjc at 5:54 AM on December 31, 2012 [13 favorites]

The concept of a life plan is deeply flawed in the first place. It creates unreasonable expectations. I would argue the norm for a 25 year old is to not be sure what they want to do next week, let alone with the rest of their lives. Any plan with a time horizon of more than 5 years is pretty much bullshit.

Try something. If it doesn't work, try something else. Repeat as needed.

And stop comparing yourself to everybody else. If you are 25 and saving money you are likely far ahead of most of the people that you think have their shit together. If you can pay your bills and save a little at 25 you are doing just fine.
posted by COD at 6:09 AM on December 31, 2012 [19 favorites]

Figure out how much money you want to make and what kind of job you wouldn't mind doing and get on the path to doing that.
posted by discopolo at 6:59 AM on December 31, 2012

You might get some comfort out of this SMBC comic on how we all have 11 lifetimes in our lives.

A lot of those people with big life plans will change their minds and their careers and their lives drastically a few years down the line. That's okay.

You might find yourself in a career you love by floating into the right thing. You might stick with it, or might switch things around yourself after a while. Both are fine.

Sounds like you're doing great at learning how to be a grown-up for now, which is really what your 20s are all about.
posted by 168 at 7:54 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am in my late twenties and love my job. It is my third job, it has nothing to do with my previous jobs, it has little to do with my degree, and I never could have predicted it.

Probably the best tip I can give is to "be dressed for service."
I continually update and submit my resume, I show up to business and social events, and I figure out how I can be awesome in my workplace given my strengths and weaknesses. I can't predict or control what comes my way, but I can make my self positively visible. I can make my self an open door for opportunity. I can be dressed for service.
posted by jander03 at 9:33 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get out and meet lots of people and do lots of activities (social, volunteering, travel, etc.). Often you will find your calling by accident, and that is more likely happen if you are out and about and socializing and networking.
posted by Dansaman at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here are two pieces of advice I can offer you.

1) A lot of people get into a rut because they think that they will find professional fulfillment and satisfaction at entry-level jobs, so they bounce around a lot and never develop a career. Make sure you're not that person. When you first start a job, it is going to suck. Work through it, because I am here to tell you that It Gets Better.

2) If you have absolutely NO idea what you want to do, go into a field that has the potential to make more money. It is much easier to downgrade from a high-money field into a low-money field, because people will know you are doing it because you are genuinely committed.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:38 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rather than try to come up with a life plan about what you'll be doing, try instead to envision who you want to be.

What I mean is: it's very very difficult, before you know about the working world and yourself and your skills and what different careers are actually like, to come up with a life plan revolving around what your ultimate career aims are. As everyone has said, you have to just try things and flail around.

However, almost everyone can sit down and envision what kind of person they want to be -- and keeping that in mind can guide your steps, increasing the chance that you will turn into that person. For instance, in my late teens I did this exercise and realised that I wanted to be the sort of person who sought out lots of new experiences, who faced my fears, and who had lots of cool stories to tell. Having explicitly realised this made me much more likely, later, to choose the "scary" option when I was confronted with the possibility of doing something new but scary or staying with something old but safe. As a result, now I feel like I've grown more into that person I wanted to be. (Still have a ways to go of course).

Bottom line: envision who you want to be, not what you want to be. That's easier and more helpful anyway.
posted by forza at 1:59 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Basically, I feel like a ball of unspent potential, wrapped in on itself. And I don't know how to change that.

Have a vague idea of where you want to go and do a bunch of stuff. Just keep doing stuff.
posted by heyjude at 9:13 PM on December 31, 2012

1. Evaluate your priorities and values (i.e. what values you want to center your life on (for me, the purpose of my life is to glorify God and everything else should flow from that).
2. Come up with the details of existance states that embody those values-HOW will you honor those values in general (for me, glorifying God in practical ways means keeping in communion with him, serving and loving others, being a good steward of all he has entrusted to me such as body, relationships, finances, talents, etc, resting and enjoying the gifts he has given i.e. recreation, and a few other major categories like these i have described.
3. Look at ways you can improve your adherance to your values under these broad categories (for example i might embark to follow a budget or exercise plan better in the name of stewardship or increase mission work in the name of serving.
4. As far as a job, if there aren't any clear conflicts with your underlying values for the job you have or would like to have (for me that means: is it making good use of your talents? Is it allowing you to serve others in some way? Etc..) then go for it-there's a WIDE variety of jobs that can align with your purpose and values and any of them would be ok to choose. So you might narrow down by your interests or likes, the market demand for the job, etc.
Good luck! And remember it all starts by evaluating what values you want to embody. Everything proceeds from that or you are just wandering aimlessly. I would suggest that you discount making your personal happiness your main value as its rife with problems to do so (sets you up for a lifetime of conflict with others as frequently your personal happiness may be on a crash course with theirs). Instead i suggest you choose something external to yourself (and if possible unchanging) that you can center your life on.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 2:12 AM on January 1, 2013

Some people are born with their vocations pre-wired. When they're 4 years old, they say they want to be a doctor, and twenty years later they are.

In my experience, that is a very small section of the population. The rest of us try things until something clicks.

I don't know how you make a life plan – after all, If you want to make God laugh, simply tell him your plans.

I read your post a few times. You can't control what happens outside yourself. It's an unfortunate economy, and for everyone who has fallen into a career and is building a life, there are heaps of people working odd jobs to get by, and heaps of people not getting by at all.

So consider yourself lucky at this moment, for you are doing well. You're aspiration is not to secure food for the table today, but to plan for a tomorrow.

In terms of being an unspent ball of potential, I would recommend keep trying things. What I've seen in the past 15 years (since Uni), is the following:

Some people take the corporate career path. They get a job for a pay check. The direction is set, and they have spent the past fifteen years refining their skill base and getting good at a niche. Sometimes they are very well-rewarded (the managerial accountants), sometimes their entire career disappears from beneath them (mortgage brokers and lawyers).

Let us not romanticise that path, but accept that it is different from another path...

Which is to try things with some mix of success and failure. In this path, the key is endurance. How many things can you try, before either you succeed or your will for change is broken?

The thing to keep in mind is it is a path. If you treat is as the former career choice – the corporate one – it is going to be very difficult, because that is a staged path with finely honed steps, milestones, and processes. To expect parity, or the same level or type of success as is inside that structure is going to be frustrating, for you are not within that structure. And therefore you should not expect your life to be anything like the lives of the people within that structure.

And with good reason. If you wanted to do it, then you would've have done it. It's not that hard. You didn't do it. Therefore, that is not your life and it's useless to compare as there is little in common.

In terms of how you make a plan, it's emergent strategy. Try something. Get paid. Meet people. Take lessons. Begin again.

Over time, ideally, you will begin gravitating toward a direction. As you try things (as mentioned) you will succeed at some, and fail at others. Your path will emerge through the constant iteration. Keeping what works. Discarding what doesn't.

If you feel frustrated that you are not moving ahead, I would start with the question as to whether or not your are appropriately discarding what is not working. A key part of success is not only embracing what works but also discarding what does not.

Someone said this morning, "I'm not making a list of what I am going to do in 2013, but a list of what I am not going to do in 2013."

So what are you not going to do anymore that is going to free you to create a path for yourself?
posted by nickrussell at 4:53 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Here is something I did at the end of last year which has helped enormously so far:

1. Make a list of the things which improve your life and I don't necessarily mean make you happy in the short-term sense, I mean lasting life improvement. For me, these include writing music, doing work for nothing for people who need help, visiting loved ones, writing letters to people, keeping fit and healthy, amongst others.

2. Try and do a little bit in each "category" every month. I have a spreadsheet, don't judge me

If you can keep this up, you'll be investing a little into your future all the time.
posted by greenish at 5:09 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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