The Dangers of the Five Year Plan by Connie McBride

Note: This article was originally published on Connie McBride’s website, which is no longer active. I am posting the article here with credit to the author.

September 14, 2015
We had only owned a cruising boat for two months. She was sitting at a local Ma and Pa marina, waiting for us to have the time and money to tackle the multi-page To Do list. We still owned a house, two cars, and literally tons of crap we wouldn’t be taking with us. I was still under a teaching contract. Cruising had never seemed further away that October in 2000 as we listened to Lin and Larry Pardey offer their advice to an auditorium of would-be cruisers. When Lin asked how many people planned to leave to go cruising in 5 years, I expected Dave to raise his hand. When he didn’t, I wasn’t surprised when he also remained motionless in response to “Three years?” I assumed this meant that we were landlocked for MORE than five years, a perfectly reasonable scenario, considering the lists clogging up my brain. So I was struck completely mute (a rarity for me, trust me) when she asked “18 months?” and Dave raised his hand. When my temporary shock-induced silence lifted, I whispered, “18 months? What the hell are you talking about?” He glanced at my worried face and asked, “Why not?” I took a deep breath to prepare myself for the lengthy explanation that I was about to spew, when my eye caught the glares from our neighbors. I vowed to continue this discussion after the seminar.

But at some point in the next few hours, Lin inadvertently supported Dave’s claim in the examples she presented and the confidence she spread throughout the room. On our drive home, Dave completed his argument with a succinct, “If we say we are leaving in 18 months, we will leave in 18 months. If we say we need five years to be ready to go, it will take us five years. I don’t have five years of the rat race left in me. We’ll be ready in 18 months.” We sailed away from land life 20 months later.
Last week Dave was reading a non-sailing blog and mentioned a post titled “The Problems with a 5-Year Plan.” I didn’t read the post, but the title started a discussion about the people we have met over the years who “plan to do what you’re going in 5 (or 10 or 15) years:” when they “finish” the boat (the boat will never be “finished”), when they have enough money (there’s never “enough” for some people), or when they retire. Some of you may be nodding your head, thinking, “Oh yeah! That’s us! Can’t wait to sail away in ____ years.” If you’re counting your departure date in years rather than months, you’re running a hell of a risk of not ever getting to follow your dreams. Here’s why.

Whatever your adventure dream may be (sailing away, RVing through the States, backpacking through Europe) there is very likely nothing preventing your following these dreams in less than two years IF you really want to and are not just talking the talk. (Which is fine, too, as long as you’re not lying to yourself or your unsuspecting spouse about the fact that you like dreaming more than doing.) Waiting for the kids to move out? WHY? Take them with you. Waiting to save enough money? Downsize, sell, go with what you have and see what happens. Waiting to get out of debt? You may find it’s easier once you get away from your normal life. Waiting for all your little duckies to be in a row? Those damn ducks are ALWAYS going to waddle around in circles, so give it up. Leave in a boat that’s not perfect, an RV with rust and dings, throw your stuff in patched backpacks and GO. A lot of the criteria that you feel MUST be met before you can begin your adventure are only necessary in your own mind. Step one is deciding that you do truly want to go, and then making it happen. I didn’t say it would be EASY to go sooner rather than later. But you are definitely more likely to GO if you find a way to go NOW.

One of the dangers of setting a “begin your adventure” goal for five years or more in the future is the likelihood of running out of steam. If you have 12 months to get a “needs some work” boat ready to sail away, you are going to have to work your butt off for those 12 months. But if you have 5 years, meh, you’ve got time. Take the weekend off. Go fishing with your buddies. Watch the game. Have another beer. (Do you see where this is going?) Five years is a long damn time to wait to do something you supposedly REALLY want to do. It’s easy to see how people just lose momentum and not only aren’t ready to go in 5 years, but NEVER get to do what they said they wanted to do.

When you have only a few months to prepare for your adventure, every waking moment is spent planning, scheming, working, dreaming, organizing, pushing toward that goal. It is always within sight, you are always almost there, your attention doesn’t have time to wander and your enthusiasm never wavers. If you put a carrot too far from a horse, he really doesn’t give a shit that it’s there at all. It’s no incentive to him. But place that same vegetable just out of his reach, and he’ll work harder than either of you thought possible.

The saddest danger of the five-year plan is that something will happen that will prevent you from EVER being able to fulfill your dreams. Relationships change: you divorce your best crew member or marry one who doesn’t share your dream. Kids grow up and aren’t quite as independent as you had hoped. Grandkids enter your life and tug your heart in an unexpected direction. Your job situation changes: you lose the cash cow that was supposed to finance the dream or you get a promotion you feel you just can’t walk away from. Your parents become ill and require more of your time, energy, and presence, or they pass away and leave you with a mess to sort through. Worst of all, is the risk of your own health deteriorating to the point of preventing you from being able to live your dream life. Or death knocks on your spouse’s door. Or your door. And poof, game over. No redos.

I’m a planner, a list-maker, an organizer, AND a dreamer. Dave says the combination doesn’t make sense because life never turns out the way you expect it to anyway. Reality never matches the plans. So why not spend more time DOING, working toward the dreams you have, setting reasonable, attainable goals, and GOING. Wherever it is you dream of going, however you dream of getting there, whatever you dream of doing, you’d better get started NOW. Waiting five years is just too dangerous.

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