F*ck your 10-year plan

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Remember the last time you had a job interview and the interviewer asked “where do you see yourself in 10 years?”, and you thought to yourself “dude, I don’t even know where I’ll be next week” but answered something that you had rehearsed and sounded good. I know that I always came up with something that sounded good and showed that I will work hard and want to grow into bigger roles within the company. Who would say “I want to be retired, lay on the beach, and drink fancy cocktails”, even if that’s what they would like to do?

Goals are great

Don’t get me wrong, having goals, and planning your future is great — but 10 years is a long time. Your entire life can be turned upside down within a year(or actually within a few seconds). The work you’re doing right now might be replaced by robots or bots in 5 years. New hobbies might lead to a new career. You might say “I’m going to focus on my career instead of getting married and starting a family” now, but in a few years you’ve found the love of your life and are a stay-at-home parent. The list is endless.

Again, you should absolutely have goals. However, I would suggest that you split the goals into two separate categories:

1. “Life goals”

Call them whatever you want. These are where you would love to see yourself in the future (what you’re dreaming about right now). “Big house on the beach, wife/husband and two kids, CEO of company X”, or whatever it might be. These should not be set in stone, they might change from one year to another, based on your current situation.

These are not the goals you’re sharing in a job interview. Keep them to yourself.

2. Short-term goals

These could be 1–2 year goals. These are actionable goals that get you closer to your “life goals”. Things you do every day to move the needle in the right direction. In my opinion, these are the goals you should really focus on.

Things change

Let’s say you’re fresh out of college and start working, your life goal at this point is “to be CEO of a company”. Based on that goal, you set short-term goals. You might be studying leadership three nights a week, moving overseas to work at the headquarter for a while, etc.
As time passes, your short-term goals are moving you closer to your big goal and you start climbing the corporate ladder. As all of this is happening, you might be starting a family and picking up new hobbies at the same time.

That’s when you start realizing that the closer to the CEO position you get, the more you spend time at work and away from your family and other things you might rather do than work all the time. So you realize that this “life goal” isn’t actually a goal of yours anymore.

The thing is, most of our “life goals” are (or at least should be) so far away that we don’t understand what’s needed to get there or what it requires “being there”. As we work on the short-term goals and get closer to the big goals, we gain an understanding of what’s needed.

That’s why the big goals should be flexible. Not because you can avoid doing things to get there and use it as an excuse for not achieving that goal, but because as you get closer to that goal you might see things differently.

What happens when you skip the short-term goals

A few years ago, I was a ~30-year-old single man. That means going on a lot of dates, and meeting a lot of women that have the wrong priorities.

I had this one experience where I dated a woman for a few months, it was clear she wanted to get married and have children. After a while I noticed that something was off, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but I got the feeling that she was more focused on wanting a family than on me. I followed my intuition and we broke up. Roughly 6 months later I saw that she was engaged to someone else, and a couple of months after that she was pregnant. So I guess my intuition was right.

Unfortunately, there were many experiences like that one.

Those women were too focused on the “life goal” instead of the short-term goals. Sure, they might achieve that big goal of having a family — but by taking a shortcut.

By taking that shortcut, the goal might bring misery instead of joy and happiness. Yes, in one year they will have a family and maybe even be happy? How about in 5 years? Or 10?
I think the number of divorces, single parents, mental health issues, etc., kind of answers that question.

What if they instead focused on the short-term goals. Working on their physical and mental health, both for themselves and to attract the right partner. Then focus on finding the right partner, someone they truly want to spend the rest of their lives with, not just someone that is a “tool” to get a child.

The thing is, children grow up. They start their own lives. They might move to another country, and if you’re lucky you see them a couple of times a year. If you’re lucky, you might still have your partner when that happens — but there are no guarantees. People change. The only thing you really can fall back on is yourself. But if you’ve neglected all the short-term work and have taken the shortcut, you might not have anything to fall back on.

Set big “life goals”, but as you work towards them — remember to be flexible. If achieving those goals means being miserable every day, it’s not worth it.

And recruiters, please skip the “where do you see yourself in ten years” -question already!

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Andreas Westerlund

Andreas Westerlund

Endurance athlete, digital nomad, nerd. Just a normal guy trying to figure out fitness, business, and life. https://www.andreaswesterlund.com