What is Your Ten-Year Plan?

My read on today’s society is that it is no longer “cool” to set New Year’s resolutions. Not helping the resolutions’ case is that we rarely keep them; there’s a reason gyms require you to buy a year-long membership rather than pay month-to-month. For me, I’ve never felt moved by the random change of an arbitrary calendar to commit to specific acts of self-improvement. Instead, as I told Nina Badzin the other day in response to her Brain, Child article on resolutions, I am more of a goal-setter. Some of those goals can be quite ambitious.

The beginning of 2014 marks the midway point of my Ten-Year Plan to completely remake my professional life.

Anyone can do five-year plans; the Soviets did them all the time, and look how well that worked out for them. When I decided in early 2009 that I needed to completely rethink how I earned a living, I decided five years wasn’t enough time. I was in a job that many envied–the CEO of a successful trade association–but surprisingly I had very little actual control over my work, answering as I was to a Board of Directors and dozens of institutional members. One spring afternoon my wife and I took a long walk, and she asked me to identify what I enjoyed doing and what my dream job would be. By the end of our sojourn I had a vision of where I wanted to be:

I love writing, editing, teaching and public speaking. I will position myself such that I can engage in all of those activities on my own terms, and each pursuit will provide synergies both professionally and financially for the others.

My wife grew up on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey (pictured above, taken on my 2010 cross-country road trip). Her life goal is to someday live again on the water, a goal I support.
My wife grew up on the beach just north of Cape May, New Jersey (pictured above, taken on my 2010 cross-country road trip). Her life goal is to someday live again on the water, a goal I support.

That first year I didn’t do much more than polish and hone this rather open-ended vision. Year Two, 2010, was more significant. Longtime readers know that a cross-country U.S. road trip in which I interviewed artists triggered a need to return to an art-committed life; that made me realize that the writing and editing and teaching in my vision needed to significantly involve creative writing. As my job would permit neither the publication of personal writing nor the pursuit of an MFA, I left that job late in 2010.

Year Three saw me begin writing personal essays and a memoir as well as start an MFA, all while providing one-on-one writing instruction to individual students. Year Four saw some of the essays written in Year Three published, with one winning a significant award. I also became a formal instructor with a local literary center. I shifted my writing focus almost exclusively to the memoir while commencing a new full-time job that tolerated my personal writing and higher-education pursuits. Year Five–2013–was significant in that I completed both the MFA and the memoir. I did so at the expense of writing more essays and submitting them for publication. I also began teaching with a second literary center.

So where do I stand at the start of Year Six of my Ten-Year plan?

  • Through professional training I have grown significantly as a creative writer, which I am applying both in my personal writing and in my day job.
  • I have grown as an editor of both professional and creative writing, which I also am applying in my teaching and in my day job.
  • I have taught writing in one-on-one, in-classroom, and online settings, the 21st Century trifecta.
  • My public speaking has been limited to the occasional literary reading or classroom presentation, but a big part of my day job is speechwriting.
After my MFA graduation last summer, my wife and kids joined me for a vacation on Vermont's Lake Champlain. I decided on that trip that when my wife and I someday live on the water, I want to spend at least part of that time on a lake. She agreed.
After my MFA graduation last summer, my wife and kids joined me for a vacation on Vermont’s Lake Champlain. I decided on that trip that when my wife and I someday live on the water, I want to spend at least part of that time on a lake. She agreed.

The New Year is the time when we look ahead to where we’d like to be. As I look ahead to the conclusion of Year Ten, and the realization of my synergistic goal of writing, editing, teaching and public speaking, I naturally ask myself what I need to do this year to advance further toward that goal. What’s important to understand is that I bring to each year’s execution list significant flexibility. I didn’t know when I created this goal that I would be pursuing an MFA, or writing a memoir, or teaching online. But I stayed open to possibility, and made adjustments accordingly.

So here are my goals for Year Six:

  • I will find a publisher for my memoir.
  • I will return to writing personal essays and will seek publication of same.
  • I will explore the next phase of my teaching career, not with the goal of leaving The Loft Literary Center but rather by seeking additional experiences, perhaps with one of the many universities in my area.

The beginning of Year Nine will be interesting for me. Why? Because as a Presidential appointee, my current job ends on January 20th, 2017. It’s actually quite empowering to know that your job has an expiration date. It means that as I continue to set in motion my goal for the conclusion of Year Ten, I am cognizant of that major change. I do not rule out the possibility of another full-time job–Walter Isaacson finds time to write remarkable biographies while running the Aspen Institute, for example–but it’s possible I will return to a path I have voluntarily followed three times before in my career, the life of a freelancer.

When I am asked how I have managed to stay on the path of an art-committed life for more than three years, I give a lot of credit to the readers of The Artist’s Road. By putting myself on the record with all of you, I am held accountable. Now I am doing that with you, sharing the Ten Year Plan, which has previously only been known by my wife and children.

I don’t suspect you are crafting ten-year plans, but what is your approach to goal-setting?

45 thoughts on “What is Your Ten-Year Plan?

    1. Thanks for the comment! As I told someone on my Facebook page, I think the key is intention. You can have an intention at the moment, or you can have an intention for ten years out. Either way you’re focused on composing something great, including a lovely day. 🙂


    1. Wow Michele! Happy to inspire you. I must confess the time frame seemed a bit arbitrary when I set it–I think I knew it was ambitious and I wanted to give myself some time. But there’s something to be said for long-range planning, so good luck!


  1. I’ve heard the phrase “five-year plan” (and such) tossed around quite a bit, but I confess I’ve never actually considered making one for myself until I read this post, which is strange considering how much I like goals. It sounds like you’re well on your way to achieving your ten-year plan. Congrats on all you’ve accomplished, and best of luck for the future!


    1. Thank you, Annie! I know you’ve accomplished a lot, so you clearly are setting goals. As I told Michele above, I think the time frame is less important than both taking steps to meet it and readjusting as needed. Best of luck to you as well!


  2. I have always believed that any goal set cannot but be achieved so long as the basis from which it is set is sound. In my business I have set financial budgets annually and over 5 years and have never failed in reaching them. This is because I am quite conservative in my approach and expect the un-expected. I don’t regard this as under achieving it’s more being realistic. So my trip to the moon has been scheduled for a later date at this point.
    Your words are generating sweaty palms and twitching fingers for me, absolutely love goal setting and budgets and consider them essential in all walks of life.


    1. Congratulations on consistently meeting your financial goals! As someone who has run businesses, I know that is a real accomplishment. And yes, it’s important to be realistic. I gave myself ten years to increase my likelihood of success. Great to connect with a fellow goal-setter!


  3. When you’re charting your own course as you are doing, there is nothing easy about planning.

    Planning isn’t everyone’s favorite but it works for me. A new year for me is time to check the oil and make adjustments and birthdays; especially those that end in zero are for “rough” long range plans. My life has naturally fallen into four year cycles – perhaps the Soviets were leaving more room for error to reach their goals, or I’m avoiding too many steps down a wrong path.

    Like you, I’m looking for synergies in my creative interests: painting, writing, research – and while it used to be easier to make connections to my overall goals, now for me there are more people to consider and I’m searching for larger umbrellas to cover us all.

    I’m happy to see you’re on track and maybe you will have a nearby lake in your future?


    1. Oh, I like your every-other-year adjustment for long-range plans with zero years. That would be easy for me to do, as someone who has lived in Washington, D.C., for twenty-five years and has had my professional life cycle with two-year Congressional terms! 🙂

      And yes to synergy. I see that with how your passion for visual arts led you to explore creative processes, which led to your book.

      If you mean Lake Barcroft, I could definitely see that if Laura and I decide to stay in the D.C. area after January 2017!


  4. Thank you for giving me something to ponder. I don’t set time limits on my big goals, like being a better painter, but I do set short term goals (like get into the studio more often) that keep in mind what the longer term goals are, if that makes sense. I just find that the quality of the journey is really the thing. As long as each day is lived to the full with personal integrity, my life is more than I ever dreamed it could be.


    1. Thank you for this comment. First off, yes to it being about the journey and its quality; that’s what the “artist’s road” is for me. And of course a big goal requires medium-sized goals, like I outline above, and those require near-term goals. I have a wall right behind me covered in white board wallpaper that has approximately thirty bulleted “to-do’s” under categories such as “teaching, “book,” and “essays,” with subheads under them. (Oh man I sound pretty anal right now!) Looking at that board is intimidating, but it also makes things easier, knowing when I sit at my desk I can choose a single bullet and work on that. I don’t carry around anxiety about all those things I could be doing, because by putting them on the board I know I’ll get to them at some point.


  5. Hi Patrick,

    I think its great to have vision. Vision gives us direction and helps us prioritize what’s most important, especially when it comes to life and creative goals. I think this is awesome and good for you! It’s working. 🙂 I have only been working under a one year plan at the moment because I’m not sure whether to return to the classroom and make my work or if I want to continue to try everything as freelancer and an independent artist. Now, I do think I should review my goals and think a bit longer term. Scaffolding goals to build into a bigger one is a great idea. Happy new year and best wishes.


    1. Hi Carrie! Your life has gone through so many changes–marriage, geography, profession–I would think the key right now is to stay on top of that change. But I’m also not surprised, since we are both whole-brained thinkers, that you are still thinking ahead. Yes to vision, and happy new year to you as well!


  6. wow, I cannot imagine doing a 10 years plan. I’ve never been a good planner, mostly been dreaming too much. dreaming of things to do, and never really accomplishing them after a long time. But I am making changes this year, to actually follow through my plans and setting a time limit. I’m excited to see how it would all go 😀


    1. Well, let me posit that a plan is really a dream. I dream of what I want to be a reality in what is now five years away. As Carrie said above, another word for that is “vision.” You must start with a vision/plan/dream, and you have done so.


      1. Aha! I never see things that way. Yes, you are right. It’s just that the term “dreams” somehow lose its’ practicality when most people around me are saying that I’m unrealistic. Thanks for pointing that out to me:D


  7. Jayme

    Great piece! I went for the vision board collage approach for essence and mood to kick off this year. Stretching towards a three-year plan seems to be more in my comfort zone, though this post is making me consider the possibility of lengthening my sights.


    1. Hi Jayme! Yes, I think you’ve mentioned you’re a vision board person. Kudos!

      As to ten vs. three years, or any length, this particular goal was one of pretty significant reinvention. I don’t anticipate engaging in another such transformation in my life, so I assume this will be the one and only 10-year plan; if I like the end of this goal as much as I anticipate I will, at that point I’d just be doing shorter term improvements.


  8. I’ve thought about making short-mid-long term goals (both professionally and personally) but have never written them down beyond a few words or brief list, which I then set aside (or lost). Your post has inspired me to take another crack at setting goals, and I like the idea of setting numbers to them… and of writing them down because I read somewhere that it makes it more likely you’ll complete the goals if you do. Thanks for sharing, Patrick, and happy new year!


  9. nancyarnypisunyer@blogspot.com

    I chanced upon you blog and now have motivation to get back to my studio to create a bulleted plan with more specifics to guide me: a Triptik, so to speak. I, too, “plan” to have a memoir under contract this year. One book proposal is at a publisher and seems to be generating good vibrations. I will follow your journey along the artist’s road with interest. There is much to learn from those who amble along the road together, and often, we can learn from oneanothers observations. Thank you, and amiable travels down your highway.


    1. A triptik! Oh, how I loved those AAA guides before the dawn of online map services and GPS devices.

      Great to hear you are getting some interest from a publisher! I’m just starting the outreach right now (or I should say looking to resume it after a holiday layoff). Best of luck! And glad to have you here as part of the community.


  10. You’ve accomplished much, Patrick; it’s healthy to look back and see how far you’ve come. I confess I rarely project my life out so far as 10 years. When I have in the past it hasn’t much resembled what actually comes to pass. What life has is store is often much better than what I imagined, and strikingly different. As a result I try to take things day by day.
    Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished, and best wishes for a fantastic year ahead. 😀


    1. Well, there you go!

      The way I envision living the result of this ten-year plan is that I won’t have a formal retirement date; I’ll just scale back how much I am doing. But I’ll still write some and teach some.


  11. Wow Patrick, I admire your focus and dedication. You took a big risk and gave up a lot of security and familiarity to pursue your calling – but it clearly paid off in spades. Just reading this post has inspired me and given me hope, and I thank you for that.

    If you’d have asked me ten years ago about my ’10-year-plan’ I’d have laughed my head off; back then I had trouble thinking 10 WEEKS ahead, never mind 10 years! But now I’m ten years older I can see the wisdom in it. And I also have an almost superstitious ambivalence to New Years Resolutions (as my blog will attest.)

    In 2011 I set out my current plan to get published as a novelist – which, under a 10-year plan, means I’ve got until 2021 to achieve that goal. I’m hoping that’s enough time to come up with at least one that’s worthy of being published (I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll probably write some stinkers along the way!) It might even take me longer than ten years – but that’s okay as well. The fact that I’ve picked a career path where being young and gorgeous is not a requirement helps enormously. 😉


    1. Hi Wendy! Funny you should mention risk-taking; I just uploaded a new post about a risk I took recently that may not pay off. I hadn’t really thought of myself as much of a risk-taker but maybe I am.

      When I started my ten-year plan in motion, I certainly anticipated a published book as a centerpiece of the plan. Five years in? Not yet. So I guess I’m glad I didn’t create a five-year plan! Keep at it and I’m sure you’ll get there well before 2021.


  12. nancyarnypisunyer@blogspot.com

    I love Wendy’s final line. I’m there too!! At 68, I’m not going to be on American Idol even as part of a 10-year plan! I’ve created a check list with Stickies on my computer, and am working at reading, researching and writing on a more regular schedule. This morning, I have already unearthed a delightful set of background elements to support my current story, in a book written by a distant cousin. So glad she interviewed her grandmother – my great-grandmother. Now I have a clearer picture than my 12 year-old brain remembered of the events of 1888 MY grandmother told me about when I was little. Having a plan, or even a list, in writing helps us to hold ourselves accountable for time.


    1. How about that! I gather you’re writing a memoir, or a family biography. Kudos for your diligent research, which is key to any personal writing, even if not everyone fully understands that. And kudos to your diligence with checklists and schedules. I want to be you when I’m 68.


      1. nancyarnypisunyer.blogspot.com

        If you have time, Patrick, would you check my most recent blog post and give me your thoughts on this project? Being me at 68 is fine. Nothing to prove and a whole new world of writing and illustrating work to look forward to. The blog is at nancyarnypisunyer.blogspot.com.


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  15. Great post Patrick. My girlfriend and I actually came up with a ten year plan shortly after getting together, although that was on a personal rather than professional level. We’ve now been together for two years and I would like to revisit where we are now versus what we had originally planned. I will also have to think about my professional goals over the next ten years.


    1. That’s fantastic, Joel! There’s a lot to be said for revisiting. Like I wrote, the ultimate goal is the same, but my imagined path has changed at times given my circumstances. I will say as well that I think it’s a bit easier for me to do this in my forties, when I have had time to figure out what I really like to do and what I don’t!


  16. Very inspiring, Patrick! It’s absolutely marvelous to see how far you’ve come by having a written plan. I have no doubt you will achieve what you’ve set out to do, plus more!

    I don’t have a 10-year plan but I do have a written plan for this year. I wrote up the plan in October and, because I’ve got my plan to be accountable to, I had already achieved some of the critical groundwork steps by Jan 1. It felt great to start the New Year feeling so far ahead. First time ever I felt that way about January 1. It felt like great juice for achieving my visions in 2014.

    I’m also a huge believer in having a step-by-step plan for any writing-related project that isn’t about being “creative writer” spontaneous. As I check off more and more tasks on each project list, I become more and more psyched to make progress and finish. It’s all about the plan!


    1. I like what you say about having a step-by-step writing plan that can be coupled with the spontaneity of creative writing. I’ve chronicled here before my reliance on my white board for storyboarding my writing. I’ve also had commenters talk about how important it is for them notto have a “plan” around their project (although they often do without being conscious of it). The book “Creative You” breaks down creativity on the 16 Myers-Briggs types, and shows how many processes there are for creativity that all lead to something good.


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