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Forgetting the 5-Year Plan

Instead of striving to get somewhere down the road, you can find deeper contentment where you are now
BY Nancy Colier TIMEJanuary 23, 2022 PRINT

The workshop started with a simple question: “What do you want?” That question was followed shortly with, “What is your deepest intention?” And then, “What do you want to create in your life?” After that, out came the magic markers, poster boards, glue sticks, glitter, and all sorts of other art supplies. We were to start drawing, mapping, and fleshing out a future life and future self, complete with the action steps that would lead us to our deepest wants and intentions.

From the time we’re very young, we’re conditioned to be strivers. We’re trained to want and keep wanting for more and better. Better versions of ourselves and better experiences for ourselves—this is where we’re supposed to aim our attention.

Truth be told, when confronted with these kinds of broad, future-oriented questions, I often find myself blank, unable to identify what I want for my future in any real detail. I usually use the magic markers and glitter to make a picture for my daughter. It’s not to say there aren’t things I want to do and create: I want to spend more time in the desert, I want to build my speaking business, and I want to do more silent retreats. But mostly what I feel in the face of these five-year-plan questions is a big fat “should” with a sprinkle of confusion and a splash of fogginess. The strong sense is that I should have a clear plan and an overarching vision of the future—and that there’s something wrong if I don’t want to participate in the exercise.

But then I remember: We take our progress-oriented, more-and-better mindset and apply it to ourselves and our time on the planet. We relate to ourselves as an object in our model of unending progress. We focus on the future, where we want to get to, what else there could be, and what we’re aiming for. At the end of the day, we assume that wanting means wanting for something, and specifically, something else, something external, and something new and different.

After years of asking myself these sorts of well-intentioned questions, I discovered that they’re not the right questions for me or for many of my clients. While asking “What do you want?” can be wonderfully helpful in some ways, it can also become another demand on us, one more thing to accomplish.

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Being present and in the moment can ease anxiety, allowing us to enjoy our lives more. (Shutterstock)

After thousands of workshops and too many hours spent journaling, talking, meditating, singing, and so on, I realized that where I really wanted to get to was here. That is, to experience this moment, this ordinary moment, and to experience it as enough. The intention I hold is to stop trying to get somewhere else, stop becoming someone else, and stop figuring out a better reality. While there’s nothing wrong with any of that, for me, the work is in diving deeper into this present moment and finding the wonder and awe in this. My five-year plan is to show up for all of the individual moments on the way to that moment in five years, which itself will then be just another now.

We’re trained to think of time and our life as something that’s moving forward on a horizontal line, hurtling into the future. Progress is our north star. It gives us a place to move toward, and with it a sense of purpose and meaning. At a deeper level, the idea of progress protects us from our existential fear of meaninglessness, from the vastness that comes with just being here, one now at a time. If we’re not heading somewhere else, somewhere better, then we’re left simply with this moment, heading nowhere in particular. If now is all we have, then what? Can we bear that existence?

But what’s remarkable is that when we enter this present moment fully, dive completely into now, with no next, and nowhere else to get to, we discover that time feels more like a vertical experience than a horizontal one. With each now, we drop into a kind of vertical infinity that is its own destination.

After diligently searching for an impressive “want” that would warrant a giant poster board and bright green sparkles, I discovered that what I want is far simpler than what I thought I should want. What I want is to be completely where I am, and to stop having to want something else all the time. I want for this moment to be everything, whatever it is. Furthermore, I want to feel a more consistent sense of awe for the fact that I get to be here at all.

I offer my own experience here so that you may know of an alternative to the habitual striving and wanting that we’re encouraged to participate in. But please, if these sorts of intentional inquiries are useful; if they help you gain clarity and move the dial forward in your life, then use them without hesitation.

But if you find yourself feeling blank or lacking when asked about what you want and want to make happen, about where you’re headed, then perhaps you can give yourself permission to stop striving to get somewhere better, and instead strive to just be here.

Getting off the five-year-plan highway can feel like getting off the “normal” grid, opting out of the way we do life in this society. But that’s okay. Getting off the striving highway and turning your attention to where you are can lead you to a far richer life, which, paradoxically, is exactly the kind of life you are supposed to be striving toward.

It’s the ultimate challenge to just be in this moment, with no agenda and no need to improve it. To arrive here and stop trying to get somewhere else may be the most difficult and remarkable achievement of our lifetime.

In a society that values striving above all else, we can add “striving to be in my life (as it’s happening)” to our want list. We can add “here” to our list of sought-after destinations. At the end of the day (and the beginning and middle too), the journey to where we are is the most important journey we will ever embark on.

What do I want? Truth be told, I want to be here.

This story was originally published on Nancy Colier’s website,

Nancy Colier
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, thought leader, public speaker, and the author of "Can't Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination,” “The Power of Off,” and the upcoming “The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You’re Depleted and How to Get What You Need” (November, 2022.)
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