Toss Your Ten-Year Plan

Noelle Ihli

Think Again Author Adam Grant Wants You to
Reconsider the Conventional Wisdom of Overplanning

The ten-year plan is a staple in corporate culture. After all, how can you get where you want to go if you don’t make a detailed roadmap? But while goal-setting can be a valuable tool for building healthy habits that lead to success, author Adam Grant cautions against the rigidity and specificity of “overplanning.”

According to Grant, overplanning is as much a mindset as an action. Overplanners prioritize adherence to the “road map” above all else – including personal fulfillment. He writes, “A fixed plan can close your mind to new possibilities. You don't know how the world is going to change. You also don't know how you're going to change.” 

Unsure if your goal-setting is healthy or harmful? Read on to find out and learn more about how overplanning can be detrimental to long-term success.

The Pitfalls of Overplanning

In Think Again, Grant lays out three common pitfalls that hyper-planners should be aware of as the world (and their own lives) evolve: 

Identity Foreclosure

Identity foreclosure happens when individuals hyper-fixate on achieving long-term goals at the expense of everything else—including their happiness. This dogged devotion to a preconceived plan can lead to personal atrophy and diminished fulfillment in life.

Identity foreclosure might look like a medical student who devotes every spare moment to her studies, residency, and eventually, her practice, only to realize that she’s missed out on years of personal development – and even alternate career paths – while engineering her lifelong dream. 

Grant says, “Choosing a career isn’t like finding a soul mate. It’s possible that your ideal job hasn’t even been invented yet…Your future self doesn’t exist now, either, and your interests might change over time.” 

Tunnel Vision

With a laser focus on long-term achievement, you could fail to acknowledge worthwhile detours and changing circumstances. 

While Grant encourages individuals to dream far into the future, he also suggests keeping concrete plans focused to one or two years max. This approach provides stopping points to survey the terrain and adjust course if necessary. When you combine big-picture goals with shorter-term concrete plans, your career path naturally dovetails with your evolving interests, life situation, and identity. 

Grant adds, “To adapt an analogy from E. L. Doctorow, writing out a plan for your life ‘is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’”

Inability to Adapt to Change

Your early career aspirations will inevitably evolve over the years due to various circumstances like health complications, family dynamics, and natural shifts in your chosen field. While some of these changes may be planned for and welcomed (marriage, the birth of a child), others may catch you off guard (a death in the family, a lay-off).

A rigid long-term plan insists that you mow down every obstacle and stay the course as designed. But Grant encourages readers to embrace a certain amount of uncertainty and remain open to changing course if needed. Depending on the setback, you may benefit from a detour, slow down, or even a U-turn. 

While it’s sometimes easy to label such course corrections as failures, Grant says, “It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves.”

Could You Throw Away Your Ten-Year Plan?

It can be scary to think of concrete plans as sprints while keeping your “marathon goals” flexible. So try this exercise to see the wisdom in flexibility: make a list of your most valuable achievements and life events over the past ten years. Now, consider what your past self would think if they could see the list. Would there be any surprises? 

The life narrative rarely unfolds in a straight line, and overplanning can eliminate some of our best detours and surprises. Are you ready to toss your ten-year plan? Tell us using #ThinkAgain on Twitter.

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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