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Charting Your Course

“The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in not having a goal to reach.”
— Benjamin Mays

Most people carry at least one map in their cars. Few people would venture off on a road trip to a place they had never before visited without a map to show them the way. No one likes getting lost on a road trip.

Yet it never ceases to amaze me how so few people take the time to map out a course for the future. Only about three percent of the American workforce have thought through a career plan and have actually written out some career and life goals. This aversion to planning is negatively affecting teens and their families.

Teens Without a Plan

The majority of today’s college students switch majors at least once — and many several times — during their academic tenure. Each change adds about one additional year in school, costing the student and their family an average of $32,000 in lost salary plus additional tuition and expenses.

Over half of the freshmen who entered college last fall will take over four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. If a college student reaches their sophomore year without declaring an academic major, their odds of dropping out of school double.

The Importance of Planning

Goals give structure and meaning to time. They focus our energies so that we make the best use of our time and resources. Planning energizes us and fuels our motivation as well.

One survey asked 35,000 sales executives to identify the most serious career problem they faced. Over 80 percent responded, “Lack of motivation.”

Both parents and teachers complain of the same problem afflicting contemporary teens. Without goals, all that we desire in life amounts to little more then dreams or wishful thinking. Plans make our wishes specific, give our desires reality, and make our dreams come true. They establish the path we follow. With the road laid out before us, we can begin to take action toward achieving what we want.

As young people begin to experience this achievement, they learn a lot about what works for them and what doesn’t. They gain a body of information by which they can set standards for measuring their personal effectiveness. This establishes the foundation for future planning and achievement.

It’s important for young planners to know that not all plans hold up under the test of reality. But there is no failure in planning. Even a plan that doesn’t develop exactly as predicted structures a pursuit and teaches a lesson for the future. Plans can and should be adjusted over time. Not only that, it is always wise to have a plan B ‘on the back burner’. Just in case…

The Habit of Planning

In today’s hectic world, families often need to plan their time together. Keeping a family calendar on which members of all ages are encouraged to jot down their activities, and putting it in a central location accessible to everyone, makes life easier for busy families. It also teaches children basic concepts of planning, like tracking actions on a time frame, collaborating with others, and keeping commitments.

As kids enter the teen years, it is a good idea to be sure they have a good system to keep track of school assignments and activities. Help develop this skill of scheduling time wisely in young teens by going over their planner with them. Knowing you will be asking to see their assignments from time to time helps teens remember to use their planners every day. Once this habit is well established, it will become a lifelong practice and greatly benefits the planner in school, work and their personal life.

Other thoughtful, planning-conscious habits include keeping a daily “to do” list, and writing out a “pro and con” list when faced with a decision. This process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) organizes your thoughts, is a great advantage when setting priorities, and is often the basis for sound decision making.

When these planning habits and mechanisms are incorporated into everyday living from an early age, goal setting and strategic planning skills are much easier to instill when facing the important planning tasks of applying to college or conducting a job campaign later in life. But it’s never too late to begin these practices that lead to better organization and a less chaotic family lifestyle.

Like having a good map when you travel, having a plan, including goals and the steps by which to achieve them, is important for getting where you want to go in life. Once your plan is established, you can take it out occasionally to help you stay on course, like the handy map in your car.

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