The power of creating a 10 year plan can’t be understated – and it might just help you answer the questions that need answering in your present life, writes Emma Clifton.
Here at Capsule, we’re fans of taking stock of the year that was and gentle goal-setting for the future. I mean, we have a vision board in our office. But sometimes it can be hard to plan for the short-term when you live in a world where the ground can change underneath you in a flash. And I don’t know about you, but the whole ‘time speeds up as you get older’ thing is very, very real. You can lose months, hell, even a whole year without meaning to. And – while we’re dealing in clichés – the idea that ‘life happens while you’re making other plans’ is also a saying that grows in weight every year.
This is where the 10 Year Plan comes in – and yes, it deserves capitals, because it is very much A Thing. Popularised by author, designer and podcast host Debbie Millman, it was a creative exercise she undertook at a midway in her career, when she had gone back to school for a short-term programme at a School of Visual Arts.
A frustrated creative, Debbie had a very illustrious design career but it wasn’t her secret, burning passion: she wanted to be an artist. The lecturer leading the course was renowned designer Milton Glaser and on the second-to-last day, he asked the class to design their five year plan: what they wanted their life to look like five years from that day.
The secret sauce, he said, was in the specificity: they were to imagine every detail from the moment they woke up to the minute they went to sleep. How did they spend their days? Who was in their lives? Where did they live? Did they have pets? How did they exercise? How did they get to work, and what kind of work did they do?
He told them to take it seriously, because he knew from past years that there was a magic to this plan; a lot of it, if not all, would come true. Debbie wrote her five-year plan, put it away and then came back to it in a year’s time, only to find three of her goals were already done, with many more on their way to completion. By the 10 year mark, 80% of the goals were ticked off and by 15 years, all of them were. She had completely reshaped her life and she credited the five year plan (which, to her, became a 10 year plan) for making it happen.
I first came across this concept in this wonderful essay by author Thao Thai, who wrote about doing the exercise with a good friend. While Thao’s 10 year plan was a cosier, calmer and more creative version of her current life, the practice completely changed her friend’s life – they came out an non-binary, as looking ahead 10 years made them realise how much they needed to change in order to live as their authentic self.
Towards the end of 2023, I purchased The Remarkable Life Deck: A 10-Year Plan For Achieving Your Dreams, which is the card deck designed by Debbie Millman to help you capture the specificity of the project. Questions range from the logistical nitty gritty – ‘where do you live, do you have children’ – to the more existential – ‘how do you define happiness, what five things would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’
If you’re the kind of person who thinks this is nonsense, well, let’s face it, you stopped reading at the ‘we have a vision board’ part of this story and that’s perfectly understandable. But if you’re still here, then you’re curious. And that’s the perfect place to start. Because there’s something quietly powerful about not having future aims shaped in a gross, Silicon Valley, GOALS GOALS GOALS way but in a softer, ‘what does a future version of your life feel like way?’
It also helps shift you out of the daily detritus of life/chores/news feeds, where we can feel so thinly stretched that anything extra – even the fun stuff – feels a bit too hard. I personally don’t really vibe with a new year’s resolution, I’ve never used a day planner in my life and even a five year plan feels a bit too, I don’t know, out of my control. But there’s something about a decade that feels clarifying (is this because I’m knocking on the door of turning 40 next year, perhaps?)
By taking a bird’s eye view of the next decade of your life, it feels like you can start to see the wood for the trees a bit. And you might also find some of those future realities a bit confronting – if the same job, relationship, location you’re in currently feels like it would be a disappointing end point for you in the future, you may start to notice what’s chafing around the edges now. The questions that sit in the back of your head might start working their way to the front. Like the cards say, respect what you have written… and see what happens next.