Where do you want to be in five years?
We hear that question all the time. It is a bit of a mantra in planning, whether commercial or personal. We are admonished that without a specific goal in mind for our lives, any destination seems acceptable. Yogi Berra, in his own inimitable expressions of tortured syntax, seemed to say it best: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
True, but maybe that’s not all bad.
It might be time to question this conventional wisdom that we are conscripted to have a specific target to achieve something meaningful or rewarding in our lives. In fact, I would suggest that for a growing number of people – and particularly at certain times in our lives – doggedly focusing on a circumscribed target for our careers, personal lives or even our company might leave us far short of what is possible. We also might get lost along the way.
I have often explained planning to people using the metaphor of artillery versus a cruise missile. One depends upon precise and keen awareness of all the variables at play from the start; the other relies on agility and responsiveness to changes in the environment. Both metaphors have their place in how we confront the trajectory of our lives and endeavors. Equal doses of planning and adaptation.
The difference that purpose brings
However, there is another way, a way that may be surprisingly relevant when you consider the exponential pace of change in our world.
Hang gliding to the future.
Hang gliders are designed to take advantage of external forces, not overcome them. They are stripped down, absent of baggage and excess weight. The pilots know their capabilities and—if they are to stay airborne— refine and trust those skills. Using intuition and sensory acumen as much as intellect, they navigate into the path of rising currents and invisible rivers of wind to carry them. Sure, they steer; they are not passive travelers. But the experience is exploratory, collaborative, open.
When our lives are glued to a target, rather than a purpose, our sense of identity is epoxied to that destination, that goal, that station in life. The target defines us, and ultimately begins to dictate how we invest in ourselves, even see ourselves (and believe others see us). It’s the companies that unwisely set a financial target as their vision that scramble for revenue sources from all corners, and lose sight of their true value to the market. It’s the senior executives who have painted organizational positions as their targets all their lives that struggle in retirement with “what to do with themselves.”
I don’t argue against having progressive goals for our lives, but I wonder if there is more to it than marching ahead in five-year increments, like stepping from one section of concrete to another on a sidewalk. Sidewalks end. Then what do you do?
Targets may seem ambitious, but they are inherently limiting. They narrow our field of vision.
This notion of casting so much of our “fate to the wind” may do violence to some people’s beliefs in having definitive measures of “success” in their lives. However, when you realize the velocity and variability of change in our world compared with just five years ago, it makes a case for the equality if not supremacy of being fiercely committed to our talents, skills, passion and purpose and having confidence it will go somewhere good — to wherever the world may be when we set down again.
Some of the most enviable business successes in the last decade were born of someone simply believing in an idea, trusting their guts, getting into that “jetstream” of public mood or aspiration that would carry them — in most cases, far beyond what more “logical” templates would have allowed them to consider.
On a personal level, the most satisfied people I know are those who—regardless of their station in life—can easily tell you who they are, not just what they do.
Almost all of them are doing things in their lives they never imagined.