#30before30,  lifestyle

#30before30: ditching the five (or ten, or twenty) year plan

"I don't know where I'm going from here but I promise it won't be boring." (David Bowie quote about having a plan)

Several years ago I wrote a bucket list for my life. It was thirty things I wanted to accomplish before I turned thirty, ranging from personal development to education and career goals. They ranged from getting a degree to learning a new language to traveling to different countries that I’d wanted to visit since I was in high school.

I don’t remember all the goals on the list, but I do remember that I accomplished almost none of them. When I was twenty-eight, that felt like a failure. After all, conventional wisdom puts a lot of stock in having a five-year plan, going to school, advancing in a career, setting goals for your personal life and checking them off. At twenty-eight I had accomplished none of the major plans I’d set for my twenties, and the things I’d worked at for several years—getting married, putting ten years into moving up the ladder in a career—suddenly dissolved. I hadn’t traveled the world, hadn’t made it to college, and had pretty much shelved art, once my passion, as a dead end.

I started thinking of that bucket list recently because I’m almost to my thirtieth birthday and I’ve had a pretty tumultuous couple of years that’s made me rethink long-term goals. It isn’t that I think my goal list was silly; making a plan is great, and I had some good items on my list. (I still want to learn to speak Italian!) But I’ve also realized three things: first, that life will take you in directions you don’t expect, and if you hang on to your five-year plan too hard, you can miss out on some great opportunities. Second, that tying your self-worth to a rigid timetable because that’s where you think you “should” be can make you feel more stressed than inspired. And third, that there are lots of other things I neglected to learn or do that would have set me up for success far more than the items on my list.

That’s why each Wednesday for the next several months, until my thirtieth birthday, I’ll be putting up a new #30before30 post detailing something I think should be on your before-30 bucket list: something to try, to learn, or to change. A lot of the posts are drawn from things I only learned the hard way in my late twenties. If I could go back in time and hand my twenty-year-old self a list of things to accomplish before thirty, these are the items that would be on it.

All of this isn’t to say that I think my twenties were a waste (though I did feel that way for a while). I learned so much over the past couple of years, and I’m still learning and growing today. If anything, I’m excited for where I’m going to go in my thirties because I feel like I’m finally a semi-fully formed human who knows her priorities and has the tools to succeed.

And what kind of bucket list do I have for my thirties? Well, I do plan to recommit to writing. I have some vague ideas of what I’d enjoy doing for a career and some half-envisioned travel plans. But I’m okay not having a rigid plan of where I’ll go in the next ten years. It’s something that would have bugged me wildly a couple of years ago, because I don’t like surprises, but I’m getting better at embracing change and remaining open to new possibilities. My life is unwritten and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Original photo by Atlas Green via Unsplash)


  • mary

    your wisdom is success :) one always has unfulfilled wishes, but that is not failure; opportunity may not have presented itself! live ” positive ” :)

  • Erin

    I look forward to reading your ‘new’ list!

    29 – 32 have been a transformation for me, I never could have planned for the way life went (like getting married) but I am happier than ever. Rather than strict goals I have values that tell me the kind of person I want to be, and everything else – like finishing my degree – is a bonus on top of that. Removing the stress of ‘need to’ has actually made me a lot more productive!
    Erin recently posted…Media Bites – Nov 2018My Profile

    • Martha

      I love how you put that! Removing a timeline from the equation has really taken a load off my shoulders. I feel like measuring my goals by how happy they make me and how they better my life/my worth as a human to others is a much better way to chart my progress than whether I ticked off a box in X number of months or by age X.

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