I should be brain dead to recommend “Life Planning” when the future is uncertain!

I should be brain dead to recommend “Life Planning” when the future is uncertain!

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OK, I did say that the future is unpredictable and uncertain when I was signing off my last post Click here to read more

So, am I downright brain dead to recommend that, you consider developing a well thought out Life Plan for yourself?

But then, when did I ever say that, Life Planning involved predicting the future? Its all about building a vision for our future, setting Life Goals for ourselves through scenarios based on educated assumptions.

To quote Paul Krugman, “The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive looking mathematics, for truth. While models may be good for explaining what’s happened, their prophecies cannot be relied upon”.

What the eminent professor says about economic forecasting is equally applicable to Life Planning because, we could also end up making it complex
especially if one becomes delusional in the pursuit of perfection (or alternatively if trying to justify a fee to their clients).

The picture is a funny take on how complicated we could get when planning for the future. Humor aside, this is the outcome of the Cynefin framework and is supposed to help business men make decisions. The IBM which developed this in the early 2000’s called it a “sense-making device”.

What’s the point of all this?

No, it’s not to make fun of those super smart engineers!

Well, lets say it’s to make a confession – about being appalled at how long it took for me to realise that, for a simple life such as mine, there was very little need for complicated models, math and conceptual framework when it came to defining my life goals and calculating the amount of money which I need to accumulate in order to achieve them.

I realised midway in life that, even if I view my goals and challenges to be special, they only seem so because, firstly I see them up close and am invariably blinded to others around who are also going through a very similar life pattern. It dawned on me that, my life follows a standard pattern with the only variation that, the timing of the events in my life may be different from others. Therefore, in my view, most normal lives progress in the below stages:

Stepping into adulthood (20’s):  This can be a challenging time when the young are being pulled between what society expects of them and what they may believe is their real calling. If one is not careful, there is a risk of ending up as a wanderer and drifter losing track of time fleeting by. One has to have the good fortune of meeting a mentor who will help us recognize the advantage of embarking on life planning early on. I know its easier said than done but, the truth remains that earlier we begin the better.

Matured adulthood (30s & 40s):  Normally this is the most productive phase in everyone’s life. It is also the acquisitive phase when one is buying a house, car, etc. One may also have children to educate and aged parents to care for. This is the phase when one should have gained clarity on their life-goals, made a holistic financial plan and the developed the discipline to execute this plan.

Moving towards retirement (50’s): This is the phase when income peaks and one should ideally be moving very close to achieving planned goals. Most critical is having made serious progress in one’s retirement plan; which means having adopted a town to retire and being well on the way to pay off that mortgage.

Living in retirement (60’s onwards): Hopefully, one has achieved life-goals and paid off all debt. Contrary to popular thought, retirement planning does not end in this life stage but rather moves into execution stage. Serious planning and iterations through regular reviews makes us mentally ready for this life stage.

The trick I believe is therefore, to keep Life Planning uncomplicated even when striving for a balance between the delusional search for perfection and a complete escape from thinking about our future; whilst keeping it tentative enough for regular review so as adapt it as we go through the rough and tumble of life.

To me life is but a summation of the Life Goals we set for ourselves and our future is made up of a combination of life influencing events

– these events I will broadly divide into: (1) Those which have occurred earlier and are repeated over and over again (2) Those which are without a precedent

Many times what may seem as a new event may not actually be without precedent but, merely the same event which has occurred earlier in our lives, either in the same or a different form and effect. Possibly these constitute about 80% of total events.

On the other hand, 80% of the life changing impact may be caused by those remaining 20% events without precedent.

However, the only way we can appreciate our present and understand why our life is the way it is; is when we can study our past, the lives of our ancestors and others who live in our environment. This is the single most important source of inputs for developing our Life Plans.

Only when we have examined history to establish trends, can we recognize the Category (1) events i.e. Those which have occurred earlier and are repeated over and over again. This way we can prevent the recurrence of those which could be detrimental and encourage the repetition of those which may be beneficial to us.

That leaves us with Category (2) events – Those which are without a precedent. This is that part of life which has to be confronted as and when it happens.

The only way one can manage this part of life, is to do the right things in the present so that, when an unforeseen event occurs, we at least have the financial resources to adapt our Life Plan to meet the new challenge and change in our environment.

This is also the only way you can prevent your Life Plans from being hijacked by unexpected events. It is important to provide for the financial impact of the increasing uncertainty to life and sources of income.

Therefore, despite the uncertainty – we cannot escape thinking and planning for your future. We have to remain ever vigilant to change our assumptions, goals to adapt our plans.

This can be achieved only if we (1) resist the temptation to achieve any perfection in our plans because being sure of the future is simply delusional (2) it follows that, we recognize something can always go wrong and all we can do is to handle an unforeseen event as a challenge (3) finally, learn to bear the discomfort of unforeseen events.

There is only one person who knows your life best – you! How difficult can it be to take a few hours off a couple of weekends and think through your own life-goals?

Of course, there is an excuse for every time you wish to procrastinate. Its common to hear those in their 20’s saying “this is the time to live it up because there is a lot of time to worry about planning for the future” and many of them drift into the 50’s when they get despondent and say “its too late, so its no good planning now “.

At this point it will be good to go back to the 1st Habit of Effective People – Be Proactive Click here for Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits .

So, stop procrastinating and don’t let any one tell you that, planning is futile because the future is uncertain. The proactive ones will take responsibility for their Life Goals and work towards picking up the skills to build and execute a Life Plan even when they are in their 20’s.


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