How we planned out life for the next 20 years (and what came out of it)

© Maria De Vos Kuvshinova

It’s been a few years since my husband and I started planning our life for the next 20 years. And it is one of the best things we are doing for ourselves both as individuals and as a couple.

We pick a remote quiet place and go lock ourselves away for 4–5 days. We reflect, discuss our dreams and life goals and make a high-level plan for the next 20, 15, 10, 5, 3 years and a detailed one for the next year.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

© Disney Fan Fiction Wikia

I’ve told a number of people about the process we go through and have received tons of questions. This is my attempt to answer them, and provide some practical tips (including the templates for all our exercises).

I would like to thank AIESEC Alumni A-Groups and Gavin NG who played a major role in kicking-off this tradition for us.

Why even bother?

Why bother going through the pain of figuring out who you want to become and where you want to go?

Without reflection I’m like a chicken without a head. Lots of energy, lots of movement, but am I really learning from these experiences? Reflection is the most important part of the learning process. If you don’t reflect, you don’t learn.

To compensate the daily dose of distraction and make steps towards our dreams I need a direction. Taking the time to think this through means it’s a clear, well articulated one.

First understand yourself, who you want to become and where you want to go and then make yourself understood by your partner. The satisfaction I get from the sense of our alignment as a couple is uplifting, energizing and makes me realize that together we can achieve anything.

Do you want to be a power couple lifting each other and making each other stronger and happier? Then talk about things that matter the most to you as individuals and together.

I always tend to overplan. By going through this exercise annually I enable myself to figure out what is really important to me, and what I should just drop from my plan and rid myself of the anxiety caused by little progress.

We change and our dreams may change. By revising our plan regularly we stay true to ourselves and actually want to work towards the plan. Life brings new circumstances. When the universe is whispering new things, we revise the plan.

How to plan for the next 20 years?

If you are a “planning virgin” let me tell you upfront the first time is the most difficult one.

How to get into the right mindset? How to start? How to set the mood? 
I receive these questions too many times and I still don’t really know how to answer them. Really, it’s whatever works for you. As for us, we usually watch Planet Earth, Home or Cosmos. Don’t try to repeat if you find it boring and cheesy. Sometimes we just want to read, so we read. Massage and good food also help. And just start.

Make it easier on yourself: 
1. Relax! 
2. Ask what do you want to get out of this exercise. 
3. Capture and visualize everything.

© Maria De Vos Kuvshinova

The planning exercise

As promised, a few practical tips and templates to help you along the way:

1. To get started

  • My year (download here).
  • Moments I’m grateful for. No template, we just discuss and write down all the moments of the last year we are grateful for.
  • Things I learned this year. No template again, pretty self explanatory.

2. Planning

  • My life balance assessment (download here). Get a overview of different aspects of your life, and see how happy you are with the overall picture.
  • Self-portrait — Me I want to become. I try to look at the future me from the outside. I describe all the roles I want to be successful in and define this success. I describe the person I want to become.
  • The next 20 years (download here). I put the path to this future me into a timeline and add extra layers of details and important context.

This exercise forces me to look at my life holistically, where everything is interconnected.

I found it very helpful to write down your age, the age of your partner, your kids or even future kids, and the age of your parents (and any other important people). You might be planning to start traveling the world after finally “earning enough” but it might be that your parents will need you closer and will require more support from you.

It also helps you understand that if in 5 years you want to become a yoga instructor, you’d probably have to start now. And oops, maybe you have already over planned the next 3 years, so something has to give.

After discussing your plan with your partner you are likely to make changes again. And scribble more. That’s how it works.

  • The next year. We come up with 3 “themes” for the next year — these are key areas we will devote our energy to. These themes are simple, clear and easy to remember. We “brand them” for ourselves ;)

To make it illustrative, I will share the 3 themes for our 2017:

  1. Diversify income streams.
  2. Win parenthood.
  3. Play as a team.

Once the most important themes are defined, we set goals for each of them and come up with key projects which will get us there and assign responsibilities.

Each of us also defines key personal / professional projects. Sometimes they fall under a shared theme or there is a personal “theme of the year”.

For instance this year I have 3 commercial and 3 non-commercial projects. These are the only things I work on, fiercely avoiding distractions. And though it is hard for me as mother of a small baby to feel I am the master of my time, it is easy for me to put my energy productively when I get free slots of 15–40 minutes. I know what my projects are and what I want to achieve each month.

At last we visualize the timeline of our year on a calendar, where we put all the project timelines, important dates, trips and holidays. It gives a good picture of they year and also shows if our planning is unrealistic. If so, we have to come back to the drawing board.

3. New practices and traditions

In 2016 we welcomed our wonderful son Coen. And we decided that for each New Year’s Eve we would like to write a letter to him, that’s a new tradition of our family. So this year, we wrote our first letter.

What will be your new traditions?

Start right here:

1. Capture capture capture everything. 
And make it digital. Chances are high you will loose a hardcopy notebook.

2. Research.
For example, do you want to get a degree? Research on the requirements, fees and enrolment timelines, compare universities right there at your planning weekend.

3. Assign targets and appoint responsibles. 
Do you want to build a house? Figure out a rough budget during planning, define roles.

4. Allocate resources
Planning a world trip? Agree to allocate 10% of your monthly budget to the travel fund. Make the first transfer.

At last

There is no way someone can tell you how to plan your dream life, it is yours. I hope you can make our process yours as well. I also wish you to find your balance between planning and going with the flow.

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