By Tobias van Schneider Published December 8, 2016
"Tobias, what’s your life plan?"
Society loves to passive aggressively ask you this question everyday. What are you doing with your life? What's your grand plan?
(listen to the song I was listening to while writing this article)
I’m not a planner. I don’t trust planners and I don’t like to be one myself. I like to live life the way it falls in place. Day after day and week after week. The fact that we always have a Plan B already gives us enough evidence that plans usually don’t work.
The only things I plan are the little things, hours or days ahead. Sometimes weeks if it’s required when coordinating & collaborating with other people. I only do it for the sake of not being a complete asshole when working with other people. But we have to know that there is a fine line between having a plan and having a vision. One sets you up for failure and disappointment and the other keeps you sane.
I don’t have a big plan for my life. For me, planning your whole life means you’re not allowing that life can just happen to you. If you already know exactly what you are going to do the next 10 years, where is the fun in that?
“The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer.”
-Joker, The Dark Knight
Interestingly enough, these are the expectations in our society as we grow up. What is your plan? Where are you going? When are you getting married? What about a house with a nice white fence around it?
There is nothing wrong with wishing to be married or wanting a house if that's really what you want. The question is just, is it your personal goal or what society tells you to do? And in reality it's hard to differentiate sometimes, because certain things have just been hammered into your head your whole life. If someone is saving money for a house no one would ask why, it's an obvious life decision.
The reason why I avoid having big expectations or plans is because I know I only set myself up for disappointment. I'd rather go with the flow, do the things that feel right and try to live as much as possible in the moment. If the moment feels right for a big decision I will do it.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” - Allen Saunders
I'm not trying to control the things I can't control in the first place. For example: I like to visit new countries without a big plan on what things I NEED to see. I love flying somewhere and then figuring it out the moment I arrived. There are people who get so hyped up to visit a new country because they found this particular restaurant they want to visit. And then once they arrived, they find out the restaurant is closed that day and their whole vacation is ruined just because of that. Stress and disappointment follows quickly.
And of all of this just because they had these completely unnecessary expectations and plans.
You get it. I don't like plans. But there is one thing I do have: It's a big list. My big wish list of things I strive to do. This list serves as my personal north star or you might call it a compass. I turn to this list every time I’m in doubt or feel like I lost track of where I’m going.
Here are the basics of how it works:
1. Keep a permanent list that contains one bullet point for each goal or thing you like to achieve in your life. If you never had one of these, start writing down around 10 items right now, big or small, it doesn't matter.
2. The list can be completely random, there is no ranking or priority. Keep it simple, just write it down on paper. Mine is in an old notebook I always keep around.
3. Each item on the list can be completely different from the other. They can be range from serious to crazy. Be honest with yourself, if time, money, family etc. would play no role, what would you like to do? Here are some examples:
Adopt a Panda
Meet a real monk
High five Elon Musk
Build a tree house
Fly to space
Write a book about XYZ
4. Keep this list private. You might tell some friends about a few items, but this is your (dirty) little secret list.
How to use this list
Now, every one or two months I pull out this list myself. I read through it, and check which items I might be not interested in anymore. There is no shame in it. If you decide to not do something anymore, remove it from the list. It should never make you feel guilty. Change is good.
Once you’ve done this, look at all the other items that are still on the list and ask yourself this one single question:
"Is what I’m doing right now (every day) supporting any of the items on the list? If yes, keep on going. If not, change something immediately."
There is no pressure in checking off any items on the list, but there is something magical to see if you are still on the “your” path. Try to not see this list as a plan, but more of a compass helping you guide the way.
During busy times, it’s often easy to drift into all the wrong directions by accident, blindly following others. Some times I look at the list and notice how I got completely sidetracked over the last few months. If there is a huge disconnect between all the things on your list, and the way you lived your life the last couple of months, you might adjust either one of them.
You don’t need to know where you’re going, as long as you know when it’s time to leave.
And again, there is no pressure in achieving any of those items in a specific time frame. The list is less of a bucket list, but more of a compass helping you to stay focused on the things you eventually want to do. Visualizing those items helps me stay sane.
Every other month I look at my list, I either find myself again, or I notice how much I’ve changed from last time I edited the list.