Five-year plans are the trendy things that blogs tell young professionals to make while plotting out their futures. Yet, they can also land a crushing blow to your soul before you even get a chance to enter the labour market. That deflated feeling you get when you look at your schedule and realize almost every hour of every day is mapped out for the next week? Five-year plans are the life-sized version of that.
The whole point of a five-year plan is to help you define and achieve your goals—be they personal or professional—but there’s still something sinister about them. It has to do with seeing everything you’re supposed to accomplish in the foreseeable future (the ideal path your life would follow in a perfect world) laid out in front of you. It also has to do with sealing and accepting your fate from the get-go, without ever giving spontaneity a chance.
Confusion, confusion, confusion
In theory, five-year plans should be most useful to young people; they’re the ones who are supposed to be the most ambitious with the most ground to gain. However, it could be argued that they do more harm than good. Few young people coming out of high school or even post-secondary education have a concrete idea of what they truly want their future to look like. And the ideas they do have are subject to change, whether they want to admit it or not. Creating a plan in such a precarious stage of life is a surefire way to end up confused and stuck to a path that may not be right for you.
For context, let’s give a real-life example. Ellie is approaching her mid-twenties and is currently in university part-time. She had previously been full-time but switched three years ago because, in her words, life got in the way. “While planning is important, you can never plan for life to happen,” says Ellie.
Ellie had a five-year plan when she graduated high school. According to that plan, she should have earned her degree, entered teacher’s college, and started supply teaching in a high school by now. Instead, she’s still in school and is working five part-time jobs.
While some may contest that your five-year plan can change and grow with you, simply having that plan in mind can keep you in a specific mindset for too long. Ellie slowly realized that the goals outlined in her plan were not what she actually wanted to do, but not before wasting a lot of time pursuing them. “No one had this plan other than me,” she laments. “I was putting this stress on myself to achieve things I should have known I didn’t want anymore.”
No idea what’s happening? No problem.
Young people should be allowed to be young. They shouldn’t feel the need to funnel themselves into a specific field with specific goals right off the bat. They shouldn’t be living the formative years of their adult lives on a set, self-imposed schedule that spells out the remainder of their youth. Make a handful of five-year plans and you’ll have your life planned out until retirement, and that’s really the last thing you want when your whole life is ahead of you.
People stumble into their careers all the time, simply by exploring what they like or by pursuing the various opportunities that come their way. That’s what Ellie did in the end. “Five-year plans are pretty limiting,” she says. “They close you off to opportunities that you are unaware of, and in my opinion, you should never close yourself off. Just be ready for whatever comes at you.”
When planning for the future, Ellie believes having a flexible, less exclusive goal is better because it “allows room for you to change and grow rather than locking you into a fake thing in your mind.”
For some, five-year plans will certainly provide a welcome sense of direction and purpose. Maybe they’re supposed to be a way of reigning in the chaos or finding some order where there usually isn’t any. If you’re one of those people, that’s great! But if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, don’t feel like you need to set out a five-year plan right now. Direction isn’t a bad thing, but a long-term plan meticulously explaining how you should be living your life isn’t always the way to find it.
Sure, you can have an idea of what you want to do, but you don’t have to write it out in painful detail. That can just end up looming over you, stressing you out, and keeping you on a set path with blinders on. Allow opportunities to present themselves. Look for them, even. You’ll get to where you’re supposed to be going.
Blythe Hunter is a volunteer with The Career Foundation.