Flash Friday: Does Long-Term Planning Pay Off?

Today is the second Flash Friday. The first Friday of every month, 40:20 Vision will answer a question from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s question digs into the relevance of long-term planning.

How much short-term and long-term planning do successful women really do? Do 20-something women plan differently than 40-something women?


The 20-Something Perspective

By Molly Ford


I’m a long-term planner. I am always updating and making plans for 1 month, 6 months, and 1 year out. I have a rough idea where I want to be in 5 years, personally and professionally, but, in general, my planning stops around the one -year mark. I do my long-term planning around two main topics: career and love, but I further break down my short-term plans around a few more specific topics: financial goals, personal health, beauty, and friendships. At the beginning of each month, a friend and I exchange goals for the month via email and check up on each other each week.


Rebecca, a 20-something grad student, says that figuring out her long-term goals helps define her short-term ones. She says,“I love long-term planning because it helps me figure out what I should prioritize daily, weekly, monthly, but seeing as though my life is always changing, many of my long term plans have changed. I am a HUGE fan of monthly planning tho!”


Some of Rebecca’s goals, “I know that by age 30-35 I want to be a homeowner, a dog owner, have a husband, be developing a family, have a strong career and be in charge at work. I would say though for the next few years the goals I have are: completing my graduate degree, traveling, interning in cool places, and dating great guys who are good for me.”


I would say that Rebecca’s goals are pretty typical of most twenty-somethings: 30 seems to be the age by which most girls in their twenties expect to be married and starting to grow their family. Most twenty-somethings also include travel in their goals, and some include advanced degrees.


On the opposite side, Stephanie, a 20-something teacher, says: “I don’t long term plan. I usually know what I want for the next year, but I do it year by year… and it really only relates to work. I don’t plan my love life.” Stephanie believes as long as you are making good decisions and are happy each day, the rest will fall into place.


Eleanor, a 20-something journalist, agrees with Stephanie. She gives this advice to fellow 20-somethings emphasizing short-term planning: “If you just chose only to long-term plan and ignore steps you can take today to reach your goals, you’ll wake up to find yourself on Sorry Lane.”


The 40-Something Perspective

By Christina Vuleta

When this question came up I immediately thought of a quote from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, COO:

“If I decided what I was going to do in college—when there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook … I don’t want to make that mistake. The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options.”


But before you throw any planning out the window, she adds that she tries to plan what she is going to accomplish for the next year or two and would advise others to do the same. The message…plan, but not too much!


Many 40-something women have found what works best is to allow for flexibility in their plans. The planning itself gives you a sense of direction and sets things in motion so you can chart your course.

“I think it’s extremely important to have a plan and goals. Without them I personally feel paralyzed. Even when you know your plan will change, the structure provides momentum. It’s crucial to be able to evaluate where you in terms of the plan so you change the plan when necessary!” – 40-something, real estate, New York, NY


This 40-something entrepreneur actually plans FOR flexibility with scenario planning. The idea is to think about a few potential futures by imagining what changes could happen. Then you can action the direction that feels the best for you but are prepared to react to change.

“For me, success is attributed to scenario-building and agility. Long term planning is not necessarily bad – we all have to have a vision of where we are going, and what we aspire to be. The same can be said of companies. However, plans that are not flexible enough to respond to change (a recession, new technology, changes in the environment) will fail.

I’m not convinced that there is a gender correlation with long term planning. That being said, women need to factor in personal aspects to career planning, such as the decision to have children.”


Other women find “visioning” helps them hone in on their life goals. This woman, a life / wellness coach, swears by it and finds her most successful clients do too:

“Have a visual of what you want. A lot of successful people, and I mean satisfied, say the same thing. If you’re in your 20s and don’t have the job of your dreams and you’re not even sure what that is, if you could visualize, what is the best job possible for me? What would the best possible relationship look like? Etc. Then you’ve put that thought energy out there and you behavior will start to follow it.


You can’t get too specific in terms of “I see a 6 foot boyfriend with brown eyes who has a German Shepard”! But a good guy who loves animals…sure. And if you do want a relationship and children by a certain age you have to evaluate who you are dating and put yourself into the right situations (like in the dog park!). Some women spent a lot of time setting career goals but let their relationships go rudderless and wish they had been a little more aware of what they wanted in a relationship.


Then there is the point-of-view that the only thing you can truly plan for is change, as this woman, a former Type A planner and reformed control freak has come to realize:

“Don’t plan. I’ve learned you can’t count on anything. Life happens. I was that type A – I will have x job and married by x and kid by x but you learn life just doesn’t happen that way and you only stress yourself out and set yourself up for disappointment.”– 40-something, investment banker turned entrepreneur


However , those that didn’t plan at all have a sense of being directionless. You can wake up in your 30s not knowing who you are and behind the curve on career and financial stability. One woman regretted her just go with it mentality. She switched jobs so often that she ended up in her 30s still at entry level and experiencing financial difficulty just at the time she started a family and needed more stability.


It seems moderation is key. Plan but not too far out and be prepared for change and some spontaneity. Of course, any planning is useless if you don’t monitor your progress. Lastly, if you don’t plan for anything else, start planning your finances. That will ultimately allow you to be less tied to plans for how you live your life:


“I would argue that long term planning to help establish your financial security is even more relevant today than ever before. In turn, it buys you long term flexibility to take advantage of opportunities, interests, life changes and whims.” – 40-something, financial services


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