what five year plan

what five year planAt each step of our lives, we already have a vision of what the outcome will be in a certain period of time. For instance, when we start as freshmen in high school, we have an idea of how the next four years will play out. The irony is that at the end of the four years, when you look back to the beginning of that journey, it has inevitably changed course from what we originally pictured.

While it is certainly good to have a vision and to toss around the idea of what you want to do, who you want to become and where your life will take you – it is important to remember that, almost always, life will not be what we once imagined. I remember my college application process very clearly for this exact reason.

When I started looking at colleges, I based my search on which schools had great programs for computer science, since that was the career path I wanted to pursue. Just when I started to finalize my process, I realized that computer science wasn’t really the right choice for me. Then I basically had to start my college search all over again. Between my junior and senior year, I probably did this a dozen times. I thought about being a paralegal, studying math, criminal justice, even music. Finally, I narrowed down my college applications to five schools. My choices were based around the premise that I wanted to go to law school on the same campus where I did my undergrad program. So I looked for schools with great undergrad programs and a law school on site.

In college, I started my journey as a criminal justice major and quickly learned that wasn’t the right fit for me either! I was “undecided” for a semester while sorting out my thoughts and feelings. I then chose marketing based on other people’s suggestions – my sister, my roommate and a close friend. And you know what? I loved it! But I never would have chosen it if I hadn’t listened to the suggestions of others. And the reality is I may not love it forever.

I found myself in a recent discussion with friends as we all looked back on our “five year plan” after college. Of the five sitting around the table, not one of us followed exactly what we had mapped out when we graduated. What I took away from that discussion was that we all need to allow ourselves to change paths organically as our interests shift. And we should not to be afraid to listen to the advice of others just for the sake of trying to figure it all out on our own.

I still haven’t gone to law school – maybe someday. But in the meantime, I take it a day at a time. And I try to remember that whatever I think will happen in the future is destined to be different from what actually does. I think Conan O’Brien said it best in his 2011 commencement speech at Dartmouth College (if you haven’t seen this, watch it, it is worth the 23 minutes!) “It is failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”