Creating landmarks can help you decide if you’re heading in the right direction.
Welcome back my fellow travelers on the river of life. If you’re just joining us, I recommend you go back and take a look at where we’ve been so far. We started by recognizing that we haven’t been looking at where we’ve been going — and we don’t like that we’ve ended up where we are by chance. Then we realized that to set a new course, we need to figure out where we want to end up.
Just like planning a road trip, having a destination is important. Who was it that said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time”? Anyway, we’ve already hit the nothing that we were aiming at. Now, we’re ready to get somewhere — and we’ve decided where.
Our next task is to decide how we’re going to get there.
Here we are in our lifeboat (see what I did there). There’s nothing we can do to stop moving forward, and we can’t speed up or slow down.
What we can do, though, is set our direction.
Your life is an uncharted course, so what you’ll need to do is create some landmarks along the way to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. The fun (and often frustrating) part about life is that unlike being on a real river, you can reach many destinations at once, so you’ll have to set landmarks for each of the journeys that you’re on.
For example, if at the end of your life, your college professor was amazed at the direction your life took after you got your Ph.D. in astrophysics — and you haven’t yet gone to college — one of the first landmarks for this journey will be to apply to college. This will then set the course for how you need to get to that landmark. Maybe you need to finish high school. Maybe you need to start looking for how you’ll pay for schooling. Maybe there are tests you need to take to get in.
Or what if you’re single with no children and you envisioned your husband and children saying great things about the wife and mother you were and the huge impact that had on their lives. Well, looks like you need a couple of milestones there. Don’t get too carried away though. There’s no sense in planning your kid’s high school graduation before you even get pregnant. Take it slowly. Find that ideal partner. (Landmark 1) Set up your financial life to be ready for kids. (Landmark 2) Get pregnant. (Landmark 3)
Depending on your personality and preferences, maybe these landmarks are too far apart. Maybe you need something more attainable to keep you on the right path.
For you, a better set of landmarks might be:
Download Tinder*. (Landmark 1)
Swipe Right** at least once. (Landmark 2)
Go on some dates. (Landmark 3)
This might be too much for some. Depending on how long it takes you to find that special someone, you might need landmarks that are closer / more attainable so you don’t lose focus.
* Is Tinder still a thing? If it’s not, insert the name of the best dating app for actual dating (not “hooking up” or “Netflix and chill”-ing or whatever people call it these days)
** Or do you swipe left to accept? Do whichever gets you to go on a date. What do I know? I’ve happily been with the same woman for over 20 years.
Start with where you are right now, and set a landmark for the next big step toward your ultimate end goal. Understand that you can be moving toward multiple landmarks at the same time in different aspects of your life. Let’s use the examples above — you want to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics while being the best wife and mother of seven children on any planet in this solar system. (Hey, you’ll be the rocket scientist, who are we to dispute a claim like that.)
What would some reasonable landmarks be, assuming that you just graduated from high school?
[Education] Landmark 1: Research undergraduate universities with good STEM programs.
[Education] Landmark 2: Gain admittance to one such university
[Education] Landmark 3: Earn a bachelor’s degree
[Relationship] Landmark 1: Start looking for suitable partners in classes
[Relationship] Landmark 2: Get married
[Relationship] Landmark 3: Pay off student loans
[Relationship] Landmark 4: Have first child
See how you can be heading toward different parts of your life goals simultaneously?
Also, see how some of those landmarks overlap?
What happens if you bump into Mr. Right at the grocery store before you even get into college?
That’s the uncharted part of life. Your lifeboat floated past the right place at the right time, and you had no way to know that was coming. Don’t let a great opportunity pass you by just because you thought that landmark was supposed to come later.
Your plan should provide guidance while being flexible.
OK, What happens if Mr. Right convinces you that you don’t need to go to college, at least not right now. He wants you to come with him on an all-expense-paid trip to Tahiti for a year. Maybe even start a family while you’re there.
What do you do then?
That’s when you go back to your life plan.
If you choose to steer your lifeboat down this part of the river, what will people say about you at the end of your life? Will you be as happy at the end?
That’s up to you. You may go back through the funeral exercise and decide that you’d have a much better life. That’s great, take the time to set some new landmarks based on this new course of your life.
You may find that Mr. Right is Mr. Wrong. And that you need to continue heading toward your original landmark.
Be flexible AND be intentional.
That’s what this whole thing is about — Being intentional.
You can go wherever you want to go and do whatever you want to do — as long as you’re intentional about it you’ll be much happier in the end.
Come back next time and we will wrap up this whole thing and decide where to go from here.
Until then, leave a comment about your life journey. Then, check out:
Other pieces in this series:
Part 5: How to Know You’re Heading in the Right Direction (current post)