Why it’s okay to re-evaluate your five-year plan.
When I left high school, I thought that by 2021 I would be in my second-to-last year of medical school… at Otago. Hah.
Evidently, that’s not where I am. The record of my five-year plan is gone now, if there ever was one. But at the end of year 13, I was asked where I would be in five years. I couldn’t even fathom that amount of time, to be honest. For the past five years, I’d, well, been in high school.
Here’s how I thought it would go: I’d go to The University of Otago, and ace First Year Health Sciences (lol), I’d cruise into Medical school, calmly finish my degree, and probably go overseas (also lol) and do volunteer work.
Here’s how it actually went: I finished First Year Health Sciences with pretty good marks, and got onto the waiting list for Otago Med. I didn’t get in. I promptly switched into a Chemistry degree because… well what else was I going to do? I liked Chemistry fine. I added an Anatomy minor because Med. I finished my BSc, got to the interview stage for Med at UoA and then had a phat cry during that one test where they make an actor yell at you.
It was time to Re-Evaluate My Life. Okay, so I liked writing. One BA in English later and one-and-a-half years in student journalism, I’m now a nicotine-addicted English Honours student at UoA.
So, what happened? Why am I not a doctor, or a lawyer, or an actress, or a ballerina, or a singer, or a firefighter (to name some of my childhood aspirations)? Well… life happened, really.
Maddy wanted to be on America’s Next Top Model as a kid. Although if anyone is model material, it’s Maddy. She’s now pursuing a postgraduate degree in Media and Communications at the University of Auckland.
Maddy noted that she knew she was going to go to university at a very young age because it was an expectation that was put upon her. However, she didn’t know what she wanted to do at uni until the end of high school. She says subjects like English, Media and Photography were subjects she was attracted to because her teachers respected, encouraged and guided her.
Similarly, Sophie was expected to go to university from a young age, as she had a “typical Asian parent” who pushed her towards STEM or Law careers. After experiencing gifted kid burnout in high school, Sophie reached a point where she knew what she wanted to do despite external pressures. She now studies a BA / BFA in English and Politics.
Both Maddy and Sophie made a five-year plan around the beginning of their university careers. Sophie said that she made hers in large part to external pressures. As her degree was five years, the plan was structured around it, but she’s since switched into a four-year degree.
Maddy’s five-year plan has largely gone out the window too. She began with Media and Philosophy majors, then went into Media and Comms, and then Media and Screen Production, and back to Media and Comms for postgrad.
“I came into uni thinking of it as a career step,” said Maddy, “but now, because I’ve been exposed to so much… my worldview has shifted massively from when I had my five-year plan.”
“It’s become so much more than just three years, tick,” she added. “The rest of my life has changed.”
But neither Maddy or Sophie regret the path they chose. And come to think of it, neither do I. After all, then we wouldn’t have this article.
“My five-year plan was about control for the future,” says Sophie. “I wanted to know what job opportunities would be available the moment I finished my degree, but there’s obviously no way to know that,” she laughs.
“It provided a [way] for my very scared young self to present a version of stability,” noted Maddy.
But both Maddy and Sophie found that their views on planning for the future have changed.
“I just have a much more solid sense of self,” says Maddy. “Back then I didn’t know who I was for sure, but now although there’s a lot that I don’t know for sure, I think I know who I am. Five-year plan? I don’t need it as much.”
“I didn’t follow any of my five-year plans,” laughed Sophie. “I was meant to have 30K in savings at the end of three years. In the Auckland housing market, working minimum wage—that was my goal.” Sophie notes that her work and living situations changed in unpredictable ways, and that there was no way she could foresee what might happen while entering a new stage of life.
Sophie says that because her five-year plan was so much about control, she feels she’s missed out on many opportunities. Since abandoning her plan, she’s formulated more of a generic idea of what she wants, which she feels is more important than “what the plan is.”
“When opportunities come, I can think about whether it aligns with what I want. I think it means I have a lot more fun,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean that planning for the future doesn’t have value. Sherry, who now studies an LLB / BA part-time while writing full-time, says that she wants to lean into five-year plans so she can “dream big.” While she wanted to be a lawyer when she entered University, Sherry naturally gravitated toward the arts and journalism; she notes her younger self would be so proud that she could earn a living from a creative career.
But above all—plan or no plan, dreams big or small, goals personal, professional or financial—Maddy stressed that although the future is scary and unpredictable, it’s important to build up support systems. “You can’t control things, and things will go wrong at some point [but] trying to build communities and focusing on your whānau is at the heart of [coping].”
“There’s a lot to be anxious about; there’s also a lot to be excited for. Think a little more selfishly and insularly about the experiences you might have and the people you might meet. Put yourself first if you’re struggling through anxious times.”
Maddy continues that she “see[s] myself hopefully surrounded by—ew, gross,” she chuckles, “—a lot of the people I’m surrounded by now. Because what else can you know for certain? Hold onto the people that make you feel secure.”
“Build a relationship with yourself,” adds Sophie, “look back and see where you’ve gone, what personal issues you’ve had in your life. You’ve got to give yourself credit for that.”
Maddy agreed, adding that even though life doesn’t always go to plan, and you can end up in some unexpected places, “you can get through a lot more than you think.”