Five year plans and fairytales

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” goes the aphorism. Personally, I like plans, although I’ve never made one that I’ve managed to see all the way through to the end, because something always changes halfway through. I still find them useful things to write, though, because they help me see beyond the end of my own nose.

Being self-employed means that I have to make most of the decisions about my business myself and although nowadays I have a good network of friends – and, of course, Kevin – to help me, it’s still easy to get lost in the details. Losing perspective makes it much harder to figure out what my priorities should be, and that means I can end up wasting a lot of time doing… suboptimal things.

It’s difficult to see yourself from the outside, but I recently had a bit of a revelation and although I have some interesting work hovering just on the horizon, I can’t afford to be complacent. Indeed, I rather wish that I had had this revelation a few months ago – I could have done with a bit of this clarity over the summer!

The upshot of all this is that I am in the process of writing myself a five year life plan which is going to attempt to answer the questions “What do I want to achieve over the next five years? What do I need to do to get there?”

Of course, everyone knows that the last four and a half years of any five year plan is a complete fairytale, (although I’ve seen many a bank manager and business advisor nod sagely when reading a long-term business plan as if it meant something). But by looking that far ahead I hope that I can get a sense of my priorities now, and I can prime myself to recognise the right opportunities when they come along.

At the moment, our bedroom wall is covered with little Post-It notes that give some shape to my thoughts as they currently stand. They include ideas from discussions with various friends and colleagues about what I need to do to reinvigorate my consulting business – and many of them contain some really scary words, especially the ones clustered around the “Marketing” note.

Even now, at just the beginning of the process, I can see that there is a real tension between the things that I like to do, and the things that I dislike doing but feel I need to in order to be able to be paid to do the things that I like to do. On one side of that equation is writing, journalism and consulting, and on the other side is pitching (to get articles places) and self-promotion/marketing (to get new clients). I’ve never been good at self-promotion and, frankly, I’ve often (subconsciously) avoided doing marketing as much as possible because it makes me feel icky and dirty.

Seeing things laid out so clearly is quite interesting – it does rather explain a lot about why I focused one the things I focused on this summer (and, indeed, in years past). I shan’t pretend that this is an entirely new revelation – I’ve known how much I hate self-promotion for a long time. But I haven’t reminded myself of my aversion, nor confronted it, in a while.

I’ve still got a lot of thinking to do around my five year fairytale. And I’d be very curious to know: If you were thinking five years ahead, what sort of questions would you be asking yourself?