“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
“Control is an illusion.”
—Regina Pickett Garson
The ever-pithy Mr. Berra had a good point. I’ve been trying to imagine, describe, or plan for my future jobs or lives for over forty years now, either through fiction or, increasingly, Microsoft Excel. You might be a wild-eyed dreamer, you might be a cautious optimist; either way, it’s a useful exercise to try to imagine your future–ideally a better one–and then do some concrete planning to make that future happen.
First There Came the Assumptions…
Sometimes it helps to ground your personal prognostications in some sort of reality…preferably one that’s attainable. I could have all sorts of ideas about eventually being the captain of the Millennium Falcon, but aside from riding the Smugglers Run attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the odds of that actually happening are pretty slim. So if you have some sort of goal, it will be less frustrating to stick with this universe.
Mind you, as my friend Regina (quoted above) noted to me more than once, your ability to control the circumstances around can sometimes be tenuous, at best. There’s nothing to say I might not become a private pilot in retirement and name my plane the Falcon; however, that awe-inspiring goal could go off the rails if I get into a car accident tomorrow.
I roll my eyes at such fatalism, as I did whenever Regina would say that–probably to vex me. Fine. She’s right. You can’t control a whole lot of what happens around you. That said, you can take an objective or forward-thinking look at what’s going on around you; assume that you will be able to take advantage of specific situations or trends; and do something that you value or enjoy.
Assess what’s happening now
So what sorts of assumptions should you make about your future? Admittedly, these are all situational. Start with your personal situation or state.
Where are you/what are you doing right now? My situation places a 50-year-old WASP tech writer with two degrees, reasonable reserves in the bank, interesting work, and a diverse work history in the United States in the 21st century. I’m living in an apartment in Orlando, Florida. I’m single, childless, and happy for the most part with both states. I’m close to paying off my current debts. I have an extensive reading list I’m working to finish. I’m participating in community theater and a walking group as social outlets. While I’ve been journaling for 30+ years, I have let my fiction writing lapse. Obviously I’m not 100% satisfied with where I am now or I wouldn’t be thinking about where to go next.
Can you honestly describe your current state?
What specific situation needs to change? Aside from a daily three-to-five-mile daily walk, I’m not particularly active or interested in being athletic. I also lack the dexterity, technical know-how, or aesthetic sense to be a particularly effective fine artist, engineer, carpenter, or public health worker. So some developmental or career paths might be closed to me, either by my current skill set or inclinations.
If my professional situation is good and I’m having social or exercise needs met, what else is there? Humans are vexatious creatures, so we always find something that needs doing. For me, those boil down to travel and creative work.
Do you know what you want to do with yourself that would make you feel happy or fulfilled?
Assess any potential limitations
When it comes to travel, there are obviously financial limitations. A cruise around the world sounds fantastic…and it is. It is also fantastically expensive. And I have an inner ear which makes extended trips at sea a questionable venture. Also, some of those cruises last nearly two months. Perhaps that’s a nice plan for retirement, not now. Other trips might be more attainable and less expensive.
I might or might not have the skills or knowledge to write the types of stories I want to tell. Acquiring those will take time.
If I wanted to engage in more professional development by getting a serious education in the engineering field, my mentor pointed out that the utility of another advanced degree at my age would be close to zero. Degrees also take up free time that I’ve learned to fill with walking and theater and reading. Do I really want that? It might be better to just leverage my current experience.
Do you know your limitations?
Next Came the Plan…
I have a list of places on this planet I’d like to visit in person, either for personal education, enlightenment, or enjoyment. Some of those places require or strongly suggest the need to learn another language. Am I up to that? Yes, given enough money and time to make them happen. I just need to identify where I want to go, how much that might cost, and then identify where the money will come from (I assume my current pay, not credit cards).
On the creative side, I will probably write a novel or two in the future. I might need to do private research to make the novel happen. Some of the trips mentioned above might serve as research for fiction as well! That’s well within my capabilities. I would also need to get back into the habit of writing stories again. Perhaps some writing exercise books would be in order, in addition to reading how some of “the greats” practiced their craft.
Can you clearly identify the concrete steps that would need to be taken to get where you want to be?
Finally There Comes the Execution…
All this planning requires that I take actions each day to make my goals a reality. After all, I really could get hit by that car out of nowhere, which could result in serious hospital or rehabilitation time. Or I could acquire an illness that affects my physical or cognitive abilities. In short, the unexpected and uncontrolled could come out of nowhere and disrupt all my plans. Fine. My thinking on this has been that if I’ve been spending my time doing things that help me become the person I want to be, that is time well spent. I might not accomplish all that I want before I die. Okay. However, was I taking action to live the life I wanted? If so, then I’ll be going out the way I wanted–more or less.
Are you doing what you can to be who and where you want to be?