The first week of 2018, and the North of England is preparing for yet another storm; Storm Eleanor to be exact. But, as the sky above me is full of turmoil, my mind has never been calmer. Actually, calm probably isn’t the best word. I don’t think I’ve ever been calm in my life; if I’m not super excited about travel plans, I’ll be over-thinking the dirty look my dog gave me. “At peace” is a bit more accurate. Which is weird really seeing as my 5 Year Plan has officially fallen apart.
I think I’ve always had a 5 Year Plan. Ever since I was young, I’ve been incredibly ambitious and wanted to succeed in life. If we’re using personality theories, I definitely fall into the Type A category; think more Monica, less Phoebe. The thing with a 5 Year Plan is that you get comfort from the structure and the idea that you are somehow organising your life. I think we can all agree that when you’re trying to find your path, life can be pretty intimidating. For me, having a 5 Year Plan helped me feel a little bit less overwhelmed. Not someone who’s very spontaneous, knowing what was next gave me a sense of stability. Just like when you’re in school, you know when you’re progressing, you can move on to the next stage and face your next challenge. You know when your successful, and when you’re not.
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life”
– John Lennon
Actually, speaking of schools, I think we’re encouraged to make 5 Year Plans from an early age, well in the English education system anyway. Before I even started to plan what GCSE’s I was going to take or which University I would apply to, I would constantly be asked “what do you want to do?”. I can actually remember being asked that question in primary school when I was like 7, when all I cared about was which Spice Girl I’d pretend to be in the playground. The (semi) grown-up, present me is absolutely obsessed with the above iconic quote from John Lennon. I think it’s pretty telling that not one of my friends, or myself, answered with the most obvious answer, instead choosing answers like ‘teacher’, ‘famous’, or ‘rich’. ‘Happy’ didn’t even cross our minds as a possible reply.
And it’s not just my career that featured in my 5 Year Plan. From buying a car, getting married and having kids, all life’s major milestones were planned, albeit in a plan spanning longer than 5 years. I don’t know if it’s because I’m female and have that whole ticking clock thing going on, but I feel like women in particular have to contend with a hell of a lot of pressure to reach certain stages in life by a certain age. Actually, this topic has come up in so many conversations with my friends, “what age is the right age to have kids/ get married” etc. At no stage have we said “when we’re ready” or “when we want to”; we always respond with the age in our life plan.
“I was playing a part in someone else’s life”
So I made my 5 Year Plan and life plan, then began following it. I got good GCSE’s and even better A Levels. I deviated from my plan when I rejected offers to study at top law schools, and instead chose to study at a University on the basis that I liked it better. Despite this slight change, I was still on track, graduating with a 2.1 law degree, and completing the LPC with Commendation. In fact, everything followed my plan perfectly until a year or two later. Although I was following my plan and progressing my career, I felt like something was missing. It’s pretty hard to explain, but it kind of felt like I was playing a part in someone else’s life. It just didn’t feel like I was living my life, at least the life I wanted to live. I found myself looking at creative jobs online randomly, then wonder how I ended up looking at it. When I’d talk to friends, I’d envy them because they seemed to have found their path and knew what they were doing with their life. They were travelling the world, getting engaged, and seemed to be happy; happier than me anyway. I was starting to doubt my plan.
Doubting my plan was possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I realise that sounds a bit extreme but it’s true. Everything I knew, the direction of my life, my purpose, my path, it all suddenly disappeared. From having the comfort of a super secure and stable structure to my life, I suddenly didn’t know what to do. I was stood at a crossroads but instead of two options, I have millions. As dramatic as it sounds, I’d lost myself and didn’t know which option was ‘right’. Some might describe it as a ‘quarter life crisis’, and maybe it was, I’m not a psychologist. All I know was that I felt like the ground had suddenly been pulled from under my feet and now I now floating through life.
“I decided that my Plan needed to be scrapped”
Not sure what to do whilst I was floating, I was drawn to things that I found comfort in; my blog, travel, creative outlets. In the midst of all this uncertainty, I knew I enjoyed writing and creating content, and had done since I was little. It was one of the few things that had stood the test of time and remained consistent through all this turmoil. Then something clicked. It wasn’t triggered by a specific event or anything in particular, I just decided that my Plan needed to be scrapped. I wanted to be as happy as my friends and what made me happy was content, so that’s what I threw myself into. Whilst in turmoil, I often ended up looking wistfully at the same postgraduate degree course. I clearly wanted to be on it, so I enrolled on it. I didn’t know where it was going to lead or what I would do after, but at that moment I didn’t care. I was focusing on what made me happy. I’d work the other details out later.
If you’ve read all of this waiting for the fairytale happy ending where I suddenly find my direction then I’m sorry to disappoint you but it’s not coming. Well, kind of; it all depends on what you deem to be the ‘perfect ending’. If you asked me at the start of this journey, of course my ideal ending would be that I created a new plan and followed that through. But that’s not happened, in fact, I don’t believe in life plans anymore. Instead, I believe in focusing on what makes you happy and seeing where opportunities take you. In a job interview last month, I was asked “Where do I see myself in 5 years?” and my answer was “I have no idea”. It was the honest answer. I felt like I’d gone full circle, returning to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question that started off my 5 Year Plan journey all those years ago. The difference was that this time I had the benefit of hindsight. When I started this blog I never thought it would play a part in changing my career, yet it did. If something so extreme could happen within 5 years, how can I even guess what the next 5 years will take me? Whilst some people might have long-term career goals and an image of what they aspire to, my only vision is to love what I’m doing. If I’m not passionate about it, it’s not for me; thanks but no thanks. Oh, and for those of you wondering, I got the job and start next week.
“Life isn’t some computer game”
So life lessons; what have I learnt through the failure of my 5 Year Plan? In a sentence, don’t make one. Ever since I scrapped the idea of having a Plan, my mindset has changed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about the future, despite it being completely unknown. Rather than having everything mapped out, I’m just going with the flow, doing things that I’m passionate about and seeing where it leads me. Leaving my legal career to work in content marketing has meant starting at the bottom of a new industry. According to my old Plan I would have taken a few huge steps backwards and should be freaking out right about now. Yet I’m not. I’m passionate, positive, smiley, bubbly, and happy. Definitely happy. I’ve given up with reaching certain stages by a certain time because that’s no way to live. Life isn’t some computer game where you’re constantly trying to reach a higher level, competing with others; it’s about pursuing what makes you happy and being content with that. Just because some of my friends are getting married now and I’m not doesn’t mean I’m ‘falling behind’. There isn’t one way to live your life; you don’t have to do the whole university, job, marriage, house, kids thing. Or you can. You have a choice because there isn’t a set pathway. And it’s also ok to change your mind. You can pursue more than one thing in life, take steps “backwards” to do something that interests you, or simply stay where you are. As long as you’re happy and content with your life, you’re successful. And that’s how you win at life.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m super impressed! It took me longer than usual to write this post but I found it actually quite therapeutic. Now, enough of me talking (typing?), it’s your turn to tell me what you think of 5 Year Plans. Do you have one? Has your life plan changed? Let me know in the comments below!