A number of people I cared deeply about died last year. That hurts in a “suck the breath out of you for months” kind of way. And it ends up that you know the feeling too — because many friends and strangers alike shared their own stories of loss with me. Sadness benefits from company more than it loves it.
I have been fortunate throughout my life, though — I always had clarity around where I was headed and what I needed to do to get there. I did not need the recent loss of life to motivate me to find a direction. But the painful losses last year have brought a greater sense of urgency to moving faster. And faster.
The brevity of our lives makes it curious to me why more people do not move with purpose. I understand that purpose requires a certain level of freedom, experience, and education. But if you are reading this, you likely have all of that and more.
So where are you headed? What is the life roadmap that will make you proud?
It’s clear that successful companies have roadmaps. You should too. It’s not to say that it is easy to create one or that you will even follow your own stated path. Regardless, it is the effort of creating a roadmap and the constant reassessment and course corrections on your own journey that matter.
Successful people have roadmaps — a clear purpose that aligns their daily movements with their long-term aspirations.
But far too many of us steer away from thinking about our lives in these terms.
We are nearsighted; the future seems too far off and hazy to even consider. We focus on what we think we can control in our daily lives rather than what is coming down the road.
So, I encourage you to take a few moments to formulate a personal plan for your own life. When you do this, you will expand what’s possible because you will think more broadly about the years ahead. Without a plan, you are leaving your life to chance, which may be exhilarating and lead to new discoveries, but is fundamentally based on luck.
To start developing a meaningful life roadmap, you must first discover what truly motivates you — this is what drives your personal satisfaction. Finding your true motivation requires some serious soul-searching. But this effort will pay off:
- You will be more self-aware;
- You will have a framework for success and a true north;
- You will realize the skills and resources you need to reach your goals;
- You will find help from others on your journey.
While it is important to lead your own roadmapping effort, you do not have to go it alone. Ask for feedback from trusted friends, family, and colleagues. You can even start smaller with a one-year plan if developing a roadmap for your whole life seems too ambitious. But whatever you do, commit the plan to writing so that your goals and aspirations stand a chance of becoming real.
Here are four practical steps to start creating your life roadmap:
1. Discover your “why”
Without a clear vision for your life, you could be running fast to nowhere. You must have a higher purpose and a true north for where you are headed. Revisit your strategy annually to make any necessary tweaks. But keep your “why” out in front to help you stay focused.
2. Decide your “when”
When it comes to the discipline of goal-setting, “someday” does not cut it. Without the “when” to ground the goal and give it substance, it will remain hopelessly out of reach. After you establish why you are headed in a certain direction, you must set a realistic target for arriving at your goal — with concrete dates.
3. Document your “what”
What do you want? Your “whats” are those tangible achievements that you strive for. They are specific. Your goals can be far-reaching targets (writing a book) or objectives that are easier to attain (volunteering at a homeless shelter). But they should be clear and measurable.
4. Determine your “how”
You may find it hard to plan every detail far in advance. So, break down the milestones that you must accomplish to make progress towards your goal. For example, if you want to earn an advanced degree, you will first need to research and apply to different programs. These small but important actions (the “how”) will help you gain admission to graduate school (the “what”).
The above may sound more complicated than it actually is. Consider for a moment filling in the following for 2016:
I will achieve____(what)_____, by this date____(when)_____, by taking these actions____(how)_____, for this reason_____(why)_____.
Once you complete your life roadmap, set it aside. Then, review it, refine it, and share it with people you trust the next day. Once you invite others into your big picture, they can offer help, keep you accountable, and join in celebrating your achievements.
Most people do not take the time to think longer term about their lives. It’s tough work and being your best right now is hard enough. But the process of figuring out what matters to you and creating the roadmap to get there will make you a better person today and when your work is done.
Will you create a roadmap for your life?