How I Found Freedom in Throwing Out My 5-Year Plan

I used to be an avid believer in the five-year plan. It was a coping mechanism, knowing how my life would pan out years from now. It gave me a sense of pride, especially when I was asked the inevitable questions regarding my career and education choices. Having a thoroughly established plan made me feel like others took me seriously, and as a result, I took my own dreams seriously. The 5-year plan was my sounding board for every decision I made, and created the safety blanket I craved.

However, there was a slight problem. My 5-year plan didn’t account for life. My 5-year plan was rigid, and filled with deadlines that looking back were nearly impossible to fulfill.

With every missed deadline I felt defeated, no matter what else I had accomplished. And that was the crazy part, I accomplished quite a bit outside of my 5-year plan!

So much so, that when I confided in others around me that I was depressed and felt stagnant, they couldn’t understand.

The revelation came, oddly enough, when I succeeded in checking off an item on my 5-year list. I moved away from my home state, to the New York City area and though it was a dream come true, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. That experience taught me so much in such a short period of time, and one of the most important lessons was a test of my flexibility.

I found that if I was willing to slowly let go of my expectations, I was able to enjoy what life was giving me at the moment. Instead of worrying about the next step or falling behind in my eyes, I was free to live day-by-day.  

Now, the key to this, I have learned, is a healthy balance. I’m still a planner by nature, and I know it can seem daunting to completely forgo the roadmap. So I’ve comprised a few ways to learn how to live in a happy medium. Still allowing yourself to think about the future, without the constraints of a rigid plan.


I’m one of those people that’s horrible when it comes to directions. To make matters worse, I’m also really bad at following directions to the letter. This is exactly how I found myself circling the same four blocks in New Jersey while trying to find my way back home. That being said, I’m so thankful for my GPS app. Why? The rerouting function. No matter how turned around I get, there’s a pretty good chance that the expensive satellite telling my phone where I am, will find another way home.

The same can go for 5-year plans. There will be multiple ways to reach your goals. And chances are, the route you take won’t be the one you originally started with. Sometimes you have to get lost and circle the same four blocks for a while. That’s okay because eventually, you will get there.

Dropping the Five in the 5-Year Plan

It’s going to take time, and sometimes that can be the most disheartening factor of having a 5-year plan. If you’re like me, then maybe you took this literally. You planned for an actual period of five years and when it took a bit longer for your dreams to come to fruition it was devastating.

I find courage and strength in Taraji P. Henson’s story. There’s a good chance that you’ve seen her work on Fox’s Empire or perhaps her stunning performance in Hidden Figures. She is an incredibly successful actor, and her body of work is impressive. However, Henson frequently speaks to the fact that it took her years to build her career. She was often overlooked for roles that would end up going to an actor considered to have more clout. Her success took time, and years of hard work. She’s clear to state that her success was not, in fact, overnight.

No matter what it may look like on the surface, it very rarely takes anyone five years to accomplish their goals. Your dreams don’t require a deadline.

A World of Possibilities

The 5-year plan doesn’t account for those little moments, the subtle changes. Maybe in your original plan, you were working towards a degree in a particular field, it would take X amount of years and would have a very definite end point. However, let’s also say that while working towards that degree, you discover your true passion. You find that this degree isn’t something that fulfills you to the deepest point of your soul like this newfound passion.  

When you let go of the structured plan, you open your mind to a world of possibilities. I’m not saying to just completely abandon everything you’ve ever worked for, but work from a place of understanding that perhaps there will be other opportunities that come your way. Be open to them. Accept them as valid options for the overarching, unique story of your life.

Stay in Your Lane

In keeping with the vehicle theme, I’m going to offer a bit of advice that you’ve likely heard before. Comparison really is the thief of all joy. Trust me. It’s difficult not to get down on yourself when all you’re seeing are the successes and wins of others. Social media can be an excellent tool when seeking inspiration and motivation. However, tread carefully.

Remember that you are likely seeing a very refined product that was worked tirelessly for. No one likes to post the muddy moments.

With that being said, don’t be afraid to document your own victories! Cherish the little moments, no matter how minuscule they may seem. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked back over my feed to realize my own progress.

Throw Out the Plan, Not Your Dreams

The important takeaway and key to finding the balance is to remember to hold on to your dreams. Remember that what is worth having in life will likely take time–more time than a 5-year plan will allow. So keep an open mind, and keep your list of dreams, but don’t attach a deadline to them.

What has been your experience with the five year plan?


Related Posts