If there’s one question that I despise, it’s this: “What is your 10 year plan?” Most mornings, it’s difficult for me to commit to a pair of underpants. (Hmm … should I wear the wicked wedgies, the muffin-top-makers or the holey wonders? Decision, decisions.) So how the hell am I supposed to plan something as important as My Life one whole decade in advance?

I’ve never been much of a goal setter, but that doesn’t mean I’m a no-hoper. Through circumstances, luck, and blind leaps of faith, I’ve been a graphic designer, a sailor, a business owner, and now a writer. None of these accomplishments were life goals, they were all pleasant accidents. If I’d latched-on to a solid 10 year plan when I was 20, none of these adventures would’ve happened.

At 20, I’d flick though the careers section of the newspaper every Saturday, dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. With my big red pen, I’d circle an eclectic mix of careers: Nurse, park ranger, web designer, translator, gallery curator, librarian, make-up artist, horse trainer. While a number of jobs excited me, the thought of doing only one of them for the rest of my life was terrifying. I didn’t want to permanently affix myself to one title. I wanted to drift from place to place, experiencing a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.

So I grew up to be exactly what I wanted to be: a drifter.

The trouble with being a drifter:

Drifters are not well-regarded by The Man. The Man likes to slot everyone into neat categories. If you can’t be easily labeled, you’re not to be trusted. If you drift from place to place, you must be lazy and noncompliant, which means you’re unpredictable and rebellious, which makes you dangerous, which means you’ll almost definitely rob a bank on a whim wearing nothing but an ex-president face mask and a pair of holey wonders.

On important forms and censuses, we’re asked questions like: ‘What was your address five years ago?’ But my truthful answer to that question doesn’t go down well:

Address: A leaky boat called Amazing Grace, somewhere in the middle of Pacific Ocean.

If I try to reply with the truth, I’m yelled at with an angry warning:

A VALID ADDRESS IS REQUIRED IN ORDER TO PROCEED WITH THIS APPLICATION! 

If I dared to submit an official form with this honest answer, I’d be eyed suspiciously while The Man privately checked a box like this:

To bypass this problem, I generally enter my parents address so that The Man can relax thinking that, five years ago, I was just another maladjusted adult living with her parents. Phew, she’s normal. 

But I disagree with The Man. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drifting. For me, having a 10 year plan would be a plot spoiler.

I like to visualize myself floating on water, drifting along the current of life’s great river. Every now and then, I get snagged in a tree or I rush down a waterfall for a scary interlude, before moving along to find the current again. Driftwood doesn’t need a ten year plan. It matches the flow of life. It twists with the curves of the river, and gets shaped by the elements. It can never be sure if it’ll wind up on a beach somewhere, or adrift in the middle of the Pacific. It’s all a part of the adventure of existing.

So when I’m asked, “What is your 10 year plan?” I can happily say, with excitement buzzing around my body: “I have no idea!”

I may not know where I’m headed, but I do have goals for my journey:

  • Relax.
  • Bite off more than I can chew, and chew like mad.
  • Do things I never thought I’d do.
  • Don’t be a jerk to myself.
  • Create.
  • Don’t be ashamed of what I create.
  • Never let fear get in the way.
  • Learn to be present.
  • Inspire.
  • Live with less than I think I need.
  • Second-guess convention.
  • Never stagnate.
  • Buy new underwear.

As I make my way down the river, bumping into obstacles, flying over waterfalls and charging through hair-raising rapids, I don’t need to worry about where I’m going to end up because, regardless of whether or not I have a 10 year plan, we all end up in the same place: buried 6 feet below. So I’ll surrender to the river, and the river will take me on one great adventure. After all, the journey is the destination.

Do you enjoy having goals, or do you drift along life’s current? 

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42 Response Comments

  • Kim  August 17, 2011 at 4:12 am

    I love this Torre. I love it when people ask me what I’m planning to do “after” our trip and I say “I have no idea.” It makes people so uncomfortable that I don’t have an answer, but I love that I am finally allowing myself to keep my future wide open and to allow opportunity to flow as it may.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

      How can you possibly set yourself up for new, unexpected things to arrive if you’re not willing to be wide open to chance?

      Reply
  • Rohan  August 17, 2011 at 4:19 am

    I think if someone is planning their life with details such as ‘in 10 years I want to be living in X, with Y as my job/salary and Z amount of friends and such-&-such amount of children etc’ and try to control circumstances along the way in order to make those things a reality, they may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Perhaps even limiting potential opportunities that may arise along the way.

    I struggle with the idea that people would REALLY plan 10 years ahead. While I don’t want to have a 10-year plan, I do however think it is healthy to know which direction you want to be heading. So when a fork in the river arrives you have a general idea of which direction you want to swim and yet be OK with the fact that, by not looking too far ahead, you may miss that turn.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:22 am

      This is true. Having a general sense of direction is good, or at least that you know yourself enough to follow the path that feels right. There’s a difference between ‘directionless’ and ‘drifter’ in my opinion. I like to drift freely, but every now and then, I still have to paddle away from crap! 🙂

      Reply
      • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy  August 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

        Good point about the distinction between directionless vs. drifter. I think most people view those without a plan as directionless, which is why they freak out.

        Reply
  • Tom  August 17, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Great post! I’m a planner, in the sense that I know vaguely where I want to go and what I want to do…but I want to do lots of other stuff in the meantime! For me, a career where I can run my own business, grow it, and take copious amount of vacation time is in my future (I can dream!)

    I know what I’m doing in the near future…another year in Korea, travel for a bit…then after that…save money somehow so I can do something I want to do!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:24 am

      That’s a nice, flexible plan, Tom. I wish you lots of luck and favorable currents!

      Reply
  • Tucker Bradford  August 17, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Awesome topic (and perfectly executed as usual). We, as you recall, have had a 10 year plan. Not me, I would have been like:
    1) buy a boat
    2) sail around the world
    3) figure out how to pay for boat
    …but Vick is a planner, and I wanted her along, so I planned too. Now that we’re ready to leave we’re faced with the frequent question “where are you going” to which we have half-heartedly replied um, south, then west, then… oh I don’t know I am personally loving the ad-hociness of it all, but I’m getting the feeling that Vick is almost ready to start planning again.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

      I think that may change for Vick once you’re out there. So much of your travel will depend on weather, friends, and word-of-mouth. You can create a lose plan, but it will change frequently. Time and dates become a bit irrelevant out there, and so do plans! Have you ever done the Myer-Briggs personality test? Vick is probably a J (judging), while you’re a P (perceiving).

      Reply
  • Katherina  August 17, 2011 at 6:31 am

    If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have now been an architect, restoring old buildings. Living in the Canary Islands, close to my family and school friends. I would have probably married my first boyfriend as well.
    But life changes far too unexpectedly. I do like making plans, but I also like the fact that i’m free to change them whenever I want. Achitecture pulled me out of the Canary Islands. Loneliness out of architecture and into business administration. Business administration took me to Germany, Switzerland and the UK, and so, apart from my first boyfriend. To friends that love to travel. To friends that are now, as me, spread over the Globe.
    The beauty of any plan is changing it!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

      That’s a nice story, Katherina. And I completely agree that the beauty of plans is changing them! Like you, I plan loosely, but run away with something brand new if the inspiration strikes.

      Reply
  • Alexis Grant  August 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Great post! I like setting goals for myself but knowing they might change and allowing them to change. I’d actually planned a post with a similar title for my own blog! Might just link to yours instead 🙂

    Reply
    • Stace  August 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      I am so there with you – except with not so good writing skills as you!

      I too love and have travelled by boat across the South pacific a little to Isands people have never even heard of, and since running out of money have returned home for a bit to get money….so many expectations- ‘think of a number of jobs you may like’..i’ve tried and no it doesn’t work for me. I would like to maybe be satisfied with the idea of meeting someone, moving itno a quaint house you can’t afford blah you know the rest..but for me if jsut can’t work that way..i would be pining out the window at aged 40 thinking whyy what have i done! Your blog summed it up so well, and gave me inspiration to not feel like doing what everone wants and just ‘go with the flow like a jellyfish’

      Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      You should write it anyway: I’d love to know your process. I admire your productivity!

      Reply
  • Debbie Beardsley  August 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I don’t think having goals means you have to be rigid. Your near term goals might need to be a little more rigid but that is just so you can attain your goal.

    Goals help you ensure you don’t miss anything that is really important to you. So you want to take a RTW trip or sail around the world. You do need goals to make sure this becomes reality!

    I also don’t think people who are traveling are “goalless”. Travel is your goal and as you travel you are figuring out what is next (whether you realize it or not).

    Good, thought provoking post!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm

      I admire people who work towards goals, I just don’t think it’s the only way to enjoy life. Some people, by the nature of their personality, enjoy acting on a whim and having no plan. On the Myer Briggs scale, it’s called Perceiving (vs Judging).

      Everyone has short-term goals, otherwise we’d never get out of bed. But being flexible is just a different way to experience life: to swim towards loose goals, but be willing to turn around and go in the other direction if the mood strikes. This isn’t for everyone, though. If you’re a ‘J’ on the Myer Briggs test, you’ll probably thrive on goals, structure and planning.

      Reply
  • Denise  August 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Having and setting goals, both long and short-term, is essential for me to keep myself motivated. Sometimes they are simple things such as ‘build a snowman this year’ or more ambitious plans which I’m quite sure I won’t fulfil, at least for now, like ‘finish writing a novel’, but yes, as I try or un-try to achieve these goals, I often stumbled upon new goals I didn’t think I had…

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm

      ‘Build a snowman’—I like it! I have short-term goals for motivation too. How far along are you in your novel?

      Reply
      • Denise  August 19, 2011 at 5:55 am

        Haha…unfortunately, I had a very creative period about 2 years ago. I wrote the first 20,000 words and imagined all the rest, but have since then only been writing fragments in no logical order 🙁

        Reply
  • Kirsten  August 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Great post. I’ve finally started my ‘no plan 10 year plan’ and its the best decision I’ve made in a long time!

    Reply
  • Nazma  August 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    You stole a page from my diary!!

    Reply
  • Erica McGillivray  August 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I love your goals! Those are the types of goals more people should have.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 21, 2011 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks. Anything beyond this would be gravy.

      Reply
  • Chris  August 19, 2011 at 4:11 am

    I don’t really *do* ten year plans. At least not serious ones about life. I don’t want to know what my life will be in ten years – I just want to have fun and see as much as I can.

    That’s why I’ve got my overly ambitious ten year travel plan (on my site) but nothing else. Seat of the pants living for the win.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm

      I think that’s a great plan: ‘have fun and see as much as I can.’

      Reply
  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam  August 20, 2011 at 4:37 am

    I love travelling down that river! There many be flotsam and there may be jetsam, but at least there are thrills!

    I hate that question too. I’ve been in job interviews and have been asked that before, so I just make up what they want to hear — like you said, otherwise they think ‘Freak: Do Not Trust” (capitalized out of respect for The Man.) 🙂

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      You’re flowing with the river right now, Raymond. I hope you’re having a thrilling ride.

      Reply
  • Audrey  August 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

    It makes people uncomfortable when you don’t have a plan – it’s like they feel you’re ungrounded, in a bad way. I have trouble figuring out where I’m going to be next week, next month rather than 1 year to 10 years out. Like you, this has changed over time and each time I’m in the middle of that plan the ground shifts. While it is good sometimes to have some plans, it’s better to know these are just suggestions and you’re free to deviate.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      I agree. As long a you know it’s not about avoidance or fear, then I can see nothing wrong with being flexible. Sure—if you have a life dream of buying a big house, or getting a doctorate then a plan may be important. But if you just want to snack on the tapas of life, plans are not needed.

      Reply
  • Audrey  August 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I find it difficult even committing to a one year plan! 😉 Plans can be good when you leave a little wiggle room, but sometimes you just need to drift… and you might just drift somewhere great!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche  August 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm

      I find it difficult to commit to plans for the weekend. 🙂

      Reply
  • vira  August 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    for a long time I thought that I always had a goal in life, until lately I realized that I kept on changing my goals..except the goal to be happy and having my own conventions.. LOL..
    so I guess I’m more of a drifter and I think I like it
    😀

    Reply
  • Ian Robinson  November 19, 2011 at 4:41 am

    I’m a dedicated drifter too. The idea of a 10 year plan is so dazzling! Honestly, I’ve not even heard of it.

    “10 year plan”

    It’s just unfathomable.

    I think you’re awesome. Congratulations on the publishing deal.

    Reply
  • Graeme  February 23, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Sometimes I like to have a plan, because it feels safe, like I will get my families approval if I do, or socieites, or something. Maybe none of that matters though. I don’t know. When I was fourteen I realized all I wanted to do was fix up an old mustang and just pack my guitar and clothes in it and just drift around the west and head for the coast and once I felt like I was “Home” I would stay wherever home was. Then this girl came along when I was fifteen and she made me want to have everything like it was a plan, the white pickett fence, the two point five kids, all of that. For four years I did everything by the books, I did everything to make her happy and everything to make my family happy and even though by societies definition I had never been more “Perfect and successful” but I had never felt more depressed, miserable and fucked up in my whole life, I just wasn’t being true to myself. A month before I turned nineteen that girl and I broke up and everything just seemed in vain, I was lost, confused and hurt because I travelled very very far down a road that I would have never travelled down if I had just been true to myself, and the worst part is I wanted to believe the whole time that it was all right and in the back of my head I always knew how wrong it all was. When it really comes down to it, I wish I just had followed what I knew was right and maybe I wouldn’t be in any of the mess I am in now. But things will turn out alright, I have a job, I’m saving up money and when I get my license back I’ll buy a car and drive around for awhile like I planned before I join the navy. I would like to say,”Oh, this is what im going to do with my life.” I feel like thats limiting myself, and I have never been one to do the speed limit anyways.

    Reply
  • Sarah  February 20, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Great Post – I really needed it today. This feeling is normal – other people feel it too!!!!!!
    I dislike commitment – if it’s not in my sense of direction or if don’t feel like it / want to.
    People don’t care enough about people. Man wants things his way – and it’s accepted as the norm/ordinary/boring. They don’t like or allow people (like us) to follow their instincts. Not enough people take the risk when all you want to say is – trust me, I haven’t got it all figured out but I know I will find a way.
    My partner and I had big arguments before we left for ‘gap’ year of travelling in 2013. I am so glad, we did it. We didn’t have a plan but we had the best time of our lives and had plenty of personal and relationship growth. Travel allows me to be in-tune with myself and other travellers get you. To not have a plan on what country, what you’ll do or where you’ll stay but you honestly do draw to you what you need or you will figure it out! We’ve even stayed in the night shift office/bedroom in a backpackers! They were the comfiest beds ever, but you feel people honestly want to help you along the road!!
    Everything was perfect about our trip – minus it ending. I was so in-tune with myself that in August I began to think of the idea of getting engaged. I asked my partner to marry me on Christmas day. I knew the time would come, I was confident, I just that what it wasn’t for me, obviously until that time/ I was Ready!!
    I’m so glad I listen to myself and that we both have this a degree of ‘drifting’. We just know we will make it all work and extraordinary things will happen in our 10 year plan plus …

    Reply
  • John  June 25, 2014 at 12:35 am

    If you are a control freak you can treat a 10 year plan as a binding contract of what you will do. This would reduce your life to a narrow script. I am in the process of exploring and creating a 10 year plan. All that I have read about 10 year plans suggest ensuring they are as flexible as you are. It is about exploring how you want your life to change for the better in the next 10 years and trying to plan to how to get there. I imagine my plan will not be a program for controlling my life but a map that I have marked the places I want to visit on.

    Reply
  • Rebecca  January 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Aaaaaahhh. I feel like I can breathe after reading this. While part of me dreams of being tied to a hefty 30-year mortgage for a pair of tiny bedrooms and a fenced-in yard that I never get to enjoy because I’m chained to my 9-5 desk job, all in the name of chasing the American dream, the largest part of me cringes at the thought of being stuck in the same place day after day. I want to see and do and hear and taste and feel everything the world has to offer. I don’t want to know what I’m going to be doing in 10 years. All I know is that I want to be reading and writing, jumping and diving, wandering and finding. I have my principles to guide me and I think that’s the only map I need for my future. Thank you for your beautiful inspiration.

    Reply

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