I can barely plan a month in advance, let alone my entire life. While trying to think too far into the future can be extremely intimidating, it’s important to have at least a little bit of an idea of where you want to be in life. Although life planning this seems like a daunting task, it’s easier than you may think. And remember: nothing is written in stone. If you don’t like the life you have chosen, pick up and choose a new one. The possibilities are truly only limited by your own imagination.
Get a head start on planning for the rest of 2014/early 2015 with this Year End Planning Guide.
What Makes You Happy?
This is arguably the most important question you will ever ask yourself. If you don’t choose a life path that brings you happiness, what are you living for? Happiness can mean a million different things to a million different people. One person may gain happiness simply by spending their days working outdoors, while another person may be happiest when they are sitting in an important meeting, helping to make decisions. So begin by asking yourself this question: “what makes me happy?” Make a list of everything that comes to mind, no matter how big or how small. Maybe it’s petting animals, or climbing a mountain, or seeing the smile on someone’s face when you help them out with something. Don’t stop writing until you’ve filled an entire page with things that make you happy; trust me, you can fill this page up if you think hard enough.
How Can You Translate This to a Career?
First things first: your career should never define you. So many people get so wrapped up in the working world that they end up forgetting who they were before their career. You are someone with goals and desires and likes and dislikes, and these may not always line up with your current career. This is okay. While everyone must have a job in order to earn money to live, you should always remember that:
a) Your career does not define you
b) The person you are can define your career
What I mean by this is that you shouldn’t fall into a job as a business woman and then change all other aspects of your life and interests to fit that particular role. Instead, take a look back at the list of things that make you happy. Do you love interacting with animals? As a person with a love for animals, maybe you could become a vet or a dog trainer. Do you love the outdoors? Why not become a nature photographer or study environmental science? Think about what you love to do and then consider how you can translate that hobby or interest into a career. I never thought that I would end up being a writer, but the more I thought about how much reading and writing makes me happy the faster everything just fell into place. I don’t love reading and writing because I’m a writer, I’m a writer because I love reading and writing. See what I mean? There doesn’t always have to be a distinct separation between work and personal life.
What About Relationships?
Ah, the one aspect of life you can’t really plan out. Whether you’ve grown up dreaming about the day you’ll get married or you’re hardly interested in the opposite (or same) sex, you’ll find yourself at a point in life where you develop a strong relationship with another person. An important fact to remember is that true bonds cannot be forced. You may be dying to grab a cup of coffee with that cute little redhead girl you saw at the bookstore the other day. You can approach her, ask her for her number, grab a cup of coffee, and then realize that the spark isn’t really there. No matter how hard you try, you can’t start a fire without something flammable. You can try time and time again, but eventually you’ll realize that fire is so much easier to start when you have a match. All metaphors aside, when you meet someone that you’re meant to meet, you’ll feel it. The connection will be so fluid and so easy that you’ll feel as though you’ve known them your entire life.
This is not to say that there’s a specific soul mate out there for you, and if you spend your entire life looking for that one perfect person you may never find them. You’ll over-analyze, judge too quickly and make assumptions that are all in your head. Let’s say you end up falling in love with your best friend. You’ve spent your entire life dreaming of the day that Prince Charming was going to come out of nowhere and sweep you off your feet, giving you a fairytale romance. But falling in love with your best friend wasn’t as exciting. When he finally proposes to you, you get cold feet and consider dumping him in order to continue searching for the elusive Prince Charming.
If you have found something incredible, hold onto it. You should never stay in a relationship just because you’re afraid of never finding anything better, but you should also know that not everyone is perfect. Relationships take a lot of work from both parties, and the chances of you finding someone who you are 150% compatible with all the time are slim to none. People are complicated, love is complicated, but many times people give up a beautiful relationship in search of something that doesn’t exist. Put down those fairy tale novels and look at what’s around you. Prince Charming has probably been staring you right in the face and you didn’t even realize it.
Children, Traveling, Relocating, Ahh!
You have an incredible amount of choices before you on a day to day basis. What are you going to eat for breakfast today? Are you going to wear a sweater or a button-up shirt? Are you going to finally interact with the cute secretary you’ve been intimidated by for the past 6 months? While small choices may not amount to any large changes, bigger choices can completely alter the course of your life. This is okay. Being afraid of change restricts necessary growth, so take some risks.
Let’s say you’ve graduated college and you have the opportunity of working in your hometown (amongst many of your friends), or accepting an internship in a foreign country. Psst! Let me let you in on a little secret: you’ll grow so much more as a person if you accept that internship, no matter how frightening it may seem at the time. Traveling opens you up to different cultures, allows you to gain knowledge and experience you wouldn’t gain any other way, and gets you out of your comfort zone. While you may feel as though you’re missing out on an exciting summer with your friends, they’ll all be jealous that they aren’t the ones out there exploring the world. You’ll come back with tons of interesting stories and a newfound appreciation for the human race.
Do you think your life will be over if you have children? There are so many couples out there that travel the world with their children or realize that their children are truly their greatest source of happiness. While everyone is ready for children at their own time in life (or never ready at all), it’s important to let fear out of your mind and consider all the pros and cons.
A Note on Basing Decisions on Others
Some decisions are not going to be easy. There may be a time in your life where you have to choose between advancing in your career and marrying the love of your life. These are the times where you truly need to sit down, meditate, and listen to your gut feeling. When listening to your gut feeling, try to ignore feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. These feelings of fear can get in the way of how you truly feel. Is this man or woman the love of your life, and are you completely satisfied and happy when you are around them? Do you think that making a career advancement will make you happier than they do? Or do you think that choosing the love of your life will give you more happiness and a better support system for advancing in your career at a different point in your life?
It truly comes down to what you believe is the right choice for you. It’s important not to get too stuck in your comfort zone, but you also need to learn your own limits. You need to sit down with yourself and strongly consider each potential decision ahead of you. While you can certainly go to significant others, parents, siblings and friends for advice, don’t let anyone make all of your decisions for you. If your significant other is moving to Boston but you know your true self lies in Ireland, go to Ireland. Ignoring your gut feeling can often leave you unhappy in the long run, as you are ignoring your true self.
Nothing is Written in Stone
If you move across country and don’t like it, you can move back. If you enter into a relationship that is bad for you, you can end it. While I wouldn’t recommend getting rid of your children if you decide you don’t want them anymore, many choices you make in life can be reversed. Don’t let fear run your life, listen to your gut feeling, and you’ll find happiness without even trying. Another important tip: take one step at a time. If you try to make too many decisions at once, you’ll be overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions at all. Take your time and relax; life will fall into place if you let it.