On Goals & Planning

The question, “What are your plans after you have finished with school?” has been one of the most commonly asked questions I receive. Each time my answer is essentially, “I have no idea.”

I am a planner. I like to plan things out to have, at least, an idea of the general direction I may be going in life. Of course, unexpected things happen all the time and plans change but they certainly help keep me grounded if I feel like a situation is becoming difficult to handle. Before starting at NCNM, my plans were to complete the ND and be a primary care physician. This was my plan and that was the goal I was working towards since medical school. It was the very thing that kept me motivated to continue because it gave me something to look forward to after I graduated. I had specific steps in my plan that was going to eventually bring me to being enrolled in an ND program and each of them was thwarted by life. I learnt some very valuable lessons since then:

  1. Failure is an unavoidable entity in life and one cannot be ruled by the crushing defeat it pounds into one’s mentality. As it is for my schooling and professional life, it is just a general part of life so accept it for what it is. It doesn’t define who I am, what I do, how I do it so look for the lesson and move forward with it.
  2. Failure results in setbacks which means all my specific plans are thrown for a loop. I used to be so stuck on the plan I had that when I had a setback I was (pointlessly) furious that nothing went the way it was supposed to. I learnt the value of simply letting go and, like a GPS does when you miss a turn, rerouted.

Then, I decided that the ND path was not for me. I wasn’t feeling connected to it like I thought I would and hoped. It was this goal I was working to for 5 years and I was finally doing it and I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be. I eventually decided to apply for the MSOM.

Externally, to everyone else, it probably seemed like I was casually switching programs. Internally, I was in turmoil wondering if it was the right the decision to simply not do the thing I intended to do for so long and try something I knew so little about. I was about to mess up my own plans.

I realized it’s one thing when life messes it up for you – you can just roll with the punches. But changing something that had been so fixed and developed for 5 years myself was surprisingly difficult. I’m someone who actually likes change and welcomes it, yet I was very hesitant. I think the biggest part of that difficulty in changing the plan was that…I had no NEW plan. I was jumping head first into a new program and, while I knew it was going to be valuable, I didn’t specifically know what I was going to do with it.

…And I still haven’t figured it out.

For the first time, I don’t know what I plan to be doing in the next 5 years. I don’t know exactly how I intend to practice. That definitely drives the planner in me a little bit crazy but I can say that I’ve learnt to truly let go of that and be okay with it (besides, I still have three whole years remaining!).

On the plus side, I’m extremely open to any and all potentials and opportunities made available to me. Probably more open to any possible paths I could take than I would be if I was entirely fixed on something specifically planned out. I certainly can’t complain about that.

Essentially, I’ve learnt this about goals:

  1. Having a long-term goal can shape the direction of your life. Goals are important but…
  2. Having a long-term goal does not define your life.
  3. Be willing to be flexible and adaptable.
  4. Do not simply place all you’re time and energy into you’re long-term goal. You’ll be living in the future instead of the present.
  5. Be present. You won’t enjoy the reaching the goal as much as you will process of getting there itself.
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