Planning Your Life Backwards

April 11, 2017 - 4 minutes read

Each of us has hopes, dreams, and plans for the future. I’m extremely goal oriented, which means that I always have in mind a list of my goals and priorities.

For example, one of my top priorities is health. This is the sine qua non (“without this nothing”) of my life.

But how about those big life goals – relationships, family, money, work? What are the two or three biggest goals in your life? A happy relationship? Being the best in the world at a certain profession? Becoming a millionaire?

Most of us, if we think about these questions at all, begin with today and imagine an ideal future. What do we want our life to be like in ten, twenty, or thirty years?  What, if anything, do we want to accomplish.

When my children were young my wife and I were interviewing for a nanny. Our top candidate, Nancy, was an executive assistant for the CEO of a publically held company. I found it strange that she wanted to leave a high paying job to be a nanny for young children. I asked her, “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?”

She hesitated. “I really don’t know.”

After we offered her the job Nancy called me and said, “Thank you for your offer.  I’ve thought about your question, and I still don’t know what I want to be doing in five years.  But I do know that I don’t want to be a nanny.”

I was disappointed that she turned down the job, but I was also relieved because I knew that, after a few months, she would have left and we would have had to interview candidates again.

I suggest there is a more unusual and helpful way to look at the larger goals in your life. Instead of looking forward, plan your life backwards. Pretend you are seventy years old (or one hundred if you are already seventy), and write down a short list of what has given you the greatest satisfaction in your life.

Pay no attention to what really happened or didn’t happen. Write down, or think about, not the reality you know, but the fantasy of what your ideal life during the past ten, twenty, or thirty years looked like, just as you actually wish it would happen.

By doing this you should be able to create a list of what has pleased you most in your life. Accumulating ten million dollars? Raising happy children?  Enjoying a peaceful, quiet life? Being the best piano teacher in town? Helping hundreds of children learn to read?

When you allow yourself to look back at your life, rather than forward, your most important aspirations will become visible, just like the hues in the coloring book you filled in with crayons when you were young.

By doing this exercise, today and in the future, when you are actually seventy, or one hundred, you will have a better chance to set goals to help you turn your dream of today (as viewed from the imaginary perspective of a distant tomorrow) into a reality you will have actually lived.

When I am closer to the end of my life than to the beginning I want to look back with delight, rather than regret.  Planning my life backwards is an excellent tool I often use to make that happen.


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