“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
Lewis Carroll from the Adventures in Alice in Wonderland
It doesn’t matter if I’m hiring for a new position, talking to someone about money or working with someone to improve their business: I generally ask a very similar question. “Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in 12 months time and three years time?”
My estimate is that at least half the time the question is answered with a blank look, a non committal shrug or a look of wonder as someone says, “I’ve never really thought about that before.”
Now I love lists, organising and strategy so my idea of foreplay is being asked to sit down and plan, which my husband well knows. However I understand not everyone feels the same way. I also understand that to some people, the idea of thinking about where you want to go, what you want to achieve and how you’re going to make that happen can be a confronting one.
That’s because it forces us to look into the unknown, to ask what we really want and to maybe even confront scenarios we might not really be comfortable with.
It is also can be an incredibly hard question to answer without a crystal ball. I know if someone had asked me at age 20 where I wanted to be in ten years time my answer would not be where I actually was at age 30. The same is true if I asked the same question to my 25 or 30 year old self. That’s why I think the 12 month and three year question is easier.
Of course, sometimes even three years is tough. I’ve had it argued to me at dinners that because business and life moves at such a fast pace, any sort of planning is a waste of time. The thing is, I think that’s a dangerous position to take. Yes I realise life moves at an alarming rate and we often can’t predict what next month will look like, never mind next year or three years’ time. I believe however that’s even more of a reason to look, to forecast, to plot and plan.
Why? Well, by looking into the future we firstly look at what we want. This forces us to think about what we value and what’s important to us which means we start to focus on that instead of the unimportant. So if in three years’ time we want to finish a degree, change career, work 30 hours a week, start a business, travel for six months, have children, buy a home or retire at least we have something we are potentially aiming for. It also forces us to look at what’s potentially coming towards us. Whether it be changes to our industry, our family or possible threats and to think about what obstacles are in the way we might need to overcome.
Will you ultimately do those things you planned or will those threats come to fruition? Who knows! What you can do however is plan for the financial eventuality. That way at least you have options.
Now options is a word I know many of us feel comfortable with. So if your goal is to have children in three years time but you don’t have a partner today you can now set out a plan for how you might achieve that. It might be joining dating sites, looking into IVF programs or adoption agencies and hopefully it will involve a financial plan for how you will be able to support yourself and a child regardless of whether a partner is involved or not.
Of course, if in three years time you’ve done the research, you’ve decided it’s all too hard, you haven’t met the right person to have a child with or you want to wait another three years, no-one is going to jump up and down and call you a failure. No good friend that is. But if you’ve stuck to the financial plan you created in order to have a child you will at least have created a pot of funds that will now give you options. Those options might be to travel for three months, to start a business, change career or perhaps to start purchasing assets. The most important part is that you now have choice.
If you plan, daydream and then simply sit back and wish for a prince charming or a fairy godmother then really you’ve narrowed all your choices down to one option. And if your fairy tale rescuer doesn’t eventuate then the only one who has been robbed of choice is you.
Now planning is great but it’s only the first step. The missing ingredient from planning and goal setting is often action. It’s fantastic to dream, to plan, to vision board or whatever floats your boat but goal setting must always only be the first step. Of course it’s the easiest and perhaps the most fun so it’s the one we spend the most time on. But after we’ve dreamed, doodled and talked about it, it’s time to take some action.
That’s where you get to write and actually carry out your own financial story.
When Alice fell down the rabbit hole she found a magic drink and a magic cake. Today many of us are hoping for a magical financial solution to fall into our laps but sadly it doesn’t exist. Instead it’s up to you. So daydream about where you want to be in 12 months and three years time, plan and then most importantly, take action. Decide today to become the author of your own financial fairy tale.
Of course, if you need someone who is an expert at helping dream, write & help you enact your financial fairy tale, make sure you contact Lauren or I at firstname.lastname@example.org.