go anywhere you want to go...

no plan required.

I watched a video by Jeff Sutherland (guru on organizational effectiveness and the value of failing fast in business!) and I’ll borrow his analogy to make a similar but broader point.

In his video, he takes us back to his early Air Force pilot days serving in Vietnam and tells us how he quickly realized that a well-drawn plan went out the window the moment he lifted the wheels…. Why?

Because he could expect wind changes that forced him to take a detour, enemy fire (quite frequent) forced him to fly lower or higher and a whole series of things that just weren’t planned - all got in the way of a good plan.

And it reminded me of my own life and how it’s been anything but a straight line….

But one thing I was always crystal-clear on - is where I wanted to go.

That clear vision of where I wanted to “land my plane” was a guiding force behind my success. It became a filter for every decision in my life. It got me to where I wanted to go…. Every single time.

There are simple recipes to help you get to anywhere you want to in life. This one takes about a day and requires no plan.

First, be clear on your destination.

When I was 13 years old, I set myself a monetary objective to reach by the age of 30 and a stretch objective for 40 years old… And yes, looking back I was a strange kid.

I attained my first goal at age 31 (late by one year) but I blew past my stretch objective by age 36 (4 years ahead).

And yet… I kept running. I kept working hard, building more businesses, landing more contracts and traveling the globe to get them…

But at the age of 49 I realized that I was running… nowhere. Sure, I had been successful at many things in my life but I’m ashamed to say that the naive goals of a 13 year old had never been re-assessed.

I had blasted my way through the objectives I had set for myself but realized I had fallen short in many other areas of my life…

And so, for the very first time in my life, I took a day to ask myself where I’d like to be in ten years - which seemed like a reasonable horizon to make significant life changes.

And I started to think about which goals would bring me closer to happiness…

I started to think about how I wanted to spend the days of my weeks and my years. What relationships did I want to have and with whom? What parts of my work I wanted to do more of and less of? How was I going to impact the lives of people in my life? Which type of life partner I wanted to have and how this relationship would be defined?

Thankfully the delta wasn’t huge in most areas and it was more a course correction than a complete shift in direction.

Here are two of my goals (of 8) of my objectives that I want to reach in 10 years. For each objective, I added 2-3 ways in which I would see/visualize success.

My relationship with my kids has extended to friendship…

- More attentive listening on my part

- Create opportunities to work and play together often

- Keep yearly vacations and traditions that keep us together

I keep my mind and my time free for family and friends…

- Take the time to be there for friends and family…

- Invite a lot of friends over…. at home, vacations, on the boat.

- Make mentoring a bigger part of my life.

The LAST question on my list was…. If I want to live this life…. How much would it cost and how much money would I need?

Don't get me wrong... Having financials goals are important and you should feel free to define them as you wish.

When I go through this exercise with most people, it is quite sobering... When asked most people will say that all they want is a mortgage-free home, pay their bills on time, pay their kids tuition and take vacations twice a year with their family.

Those are all worthwhile and well within reach of most.

We often realize that in order to live a meaningful and purposeful life, we don’t need that much money at all.

When I went through this exercise, it was liberating. I realized that I didn’t need more money to live the life I wanted and I started to make a series of changes in my life accordingly…

I started to switch around my schedule so that it would better reflect the way I wanted to spend my life and the time I wanted to dedicated to my future activities.

Since that time (in the last 18 months), I started to make a series of changes in all aspects of my life that would get me closer to the goals I had set forth. None of them are financial.

And I’m happy to report that I’m already 70% of the way there for most of my objectives. It feels amazing.

It’s important because choosing the right goals will act as a filter for your decisions…

Understanding where you want to go ensures that when an opportunity presents itself - you are able to judge whether or not it will bring you closer to your goals.

Once I realized that making more money wasn’t going to buy me more happiness, it became very easy to turn down business opportunities that I felt would tie me down so I started to turn down tons of deals (maybe poorer but a lot happier for it…)

When I took great satisfaction from coaching younger people, I started to clear my schedule to allow for those time slots and eventually turned to writing as a means to touch even more people.

The right goals should allow you to make the right decisions because your destination is clear.

Sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised how few of us actually take the time to think about this.

And because you’ll have taken the time to think about what you want in your life not just right now but where you want to land in 10 years…. It will give you the perspective you need to ensure that the decisions you take match both your short and longer-term objectives.

It will mean that you will devote a lot less time to activities, pursuits and projects that take you away from your goals and repurpose that time and energy on things that do.

It will give you purpose, it will give you direction.

Now drop the plan.

Most people take comfort in drawing up a plan about how to get there. But from day 0, things will typically go awry and your plan is out the door and you may feel like you’ll never succeed.

“We make a plan, G-d laughs.”

Old Yiddish Proverb

Instead, I like to imagine my future as a series of trees (decision trees) I can take.

As you take a step towards a path - you’ll find stones you didn’t expect and clearings you weren’t hoping for.

At any step, you have a series of other paths that open up to you (climb over the stone, walk around it, turn back, move it out of the way or stay put…).

And each step or decision will open up another series of paths… forcing you to take another decision and on and on... until we die.

But there is a great deal of beauty in this image… is that while we may not have dominion about what rocks our thrown on our paths, we have complete and unlimited control about what we do from that point on.

So it seems logical then that if we want a better life - we have to make better decisions and that comes from a better judgement. And that judgement can get better over time (as I wrote in one of my previous blogs).

Having defined a clear vision, however, is the single most important thing you can do. Because it becomes the filter by which you evaluate all of your decisions…

Life will present you with many opportunities and constantly - good and bad. But you have to learn that even some good opportunities take you further away from your long-term goals.

Understanding where you want to go - will ensure that most decisions you take - all lead to the the life you want to live.

It’s a constant reminder of what is important in life…. It’s being mindful. It’s understanding what matters even in the turmoil of life.

So make a vision really worth living… you’ll get there before you know.

I have many areas of my life that need to be given more of my focus. Many areas of my life where I should have invested sooner or smarter.

We say parenthood doesn’t come with a manual but I’ve learnt (way too late) that it does… There are plenty of books that teach us how to become better parents and avoid the mistakes we’ve committed out of ignorance even if full of love.

There are many studies, videos or books that are also talk about what makes a better life and generates more happiness in the end.

There are lots of resources to help you make more money or become better at all of the things you want to accomplish.

It’s a question of focus. And where focus goes… so does energy.

Take the time to define the worthy goals that will result in your ultimate well-being so that they serve as the filters for the decisions in your life.

Remember that money should buy you freedom… it should never enslave you. And that whatever monetary goal you have, should only be there to support the meaningful life you want to live….

And that we should remember to always take action and make decisions all the time - even in the absence of data (you will never have enough) to learn along the way and to move and experiment.

That you should accept that the path there will not always be straight and that failure should be embraced. You will learn and try new things….

Keep it exciting and as painless as possible and, as much as possible, avoid the really big mistakes in life.

You will see that sooner than you think, your life will have changed for the better. In weeks, months and years - your life will become gradually closer to the life you wanted to have.

And that - I can guarantee - is a sure way to be live a more purposeful and satisfied life.