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Planning to live forever?

C'mon do you want to live r?" These apocryphal are supposed to have been voiced by a U.S. Army commander leading a charge "over the top" in World War I.

In contrary vein, one of the most successful life insurance sales managers used to berate senior executives who had very limited life insurance policies with this sardonic comment: Obviously, you plan to live forever."

When you contemplate the lack of planning that goes on in everyday lives, it is a marvel so many turn out so well. One wonders what might have been if better use had been made of the talents each person possesses and career and life planning techniques.

For example, research in the United States reveals that many corporate executives who excel in planning their companies' futures are inept in doing the same for their own careers, for their own lives in general, and their personal finances in particular.

Many executives not only follow this pattern, but in life planning fail to use the strategic planning techniques they use in managing their associations.

Assuming you might want to explore such an approach, let me guide you through the familiar process.

Before I do so, let me give you a few quotations:

"Life doesn't come with an instruction book. That's why we have mothers and fathers."

An ancient Chinese proverb warns, "Unless we change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed."

Casey Stengel once said, "If you don't know where you are going, you'll wind up somewhere else."

Peter Drucker: "If you don't know where you are going, any plan will do."

Wayne Gretzky: "I skate to where I think the puck will be."

And Woody Allen: "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Developing a plan

You need a formal plan. This means having a written plan. The starting point is understanding the process. Key steps in strategic planning include the following. 1. Take stock. Study where you have been--the history of your life so far. 2. Make an inventory of what you have--material, mental, social, and spiritual assets. 3. Determine your strengths and weaknesses. God gave us the nuts, but he does not crack them. 4. Examine environmental considerations and list opportunities and threats to your future. S. Make some assumptions about the future based on major political, economic, social, or technological trends. When you can't change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails. 6. From these examinations, decide on a mission statement--your purpose in life for its remainder. You may have to change it 5-10 years down the road as you acquire more wisdom and experience. A well-conceived mission, however, should last longer if possible. 7. Determine major goals, or general objectives, arising from your mission. Consider these in a range of 5-10 years. S. Set specific objectives under each goal. These should be measurable, at least in terms of time. Consider a range of 1-3 years. 9. Prepare a plan of action to achieve each objective. 10. Be prepared to change your objectives and plans as necessary. Review progress at least on a yearly basis to consider modifications.

Some reflections

I wish I had known about this disciplined process when I was in my 20s and 30s, because my career might have been different--perhaps better or at least easier. I did have some vague idea of where I was going and what I was trying to achieve, but it was largely ad hoc. I am lucky to have done well by dealing with the future on the basis of a one-at-a-time problem-solving technique.

Surprisingly, my career planning did roughly follow the time frames indicated. After a military career of five years--dictated by external forces--I entered association work with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. After seven years, I decided to switch to magazine publishing.

At the end of seven years, I started to be receptive to a career change and in another two years moved to be chief staff officer of the Travel Industry Association of Canada. Twelve years on this job proved to be too long, but eventually I left to head the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, from which I retired after 11 years.

Along the way, as with most readers of this article, I attended annual conventions of association executives (32 so far), association management seminars, and participated in other association activities--that has been an invaluable practice.

My recommendation to young people is that they start the strategic planning process by going on a retreat. Get away from your work and home environments, which have so many distractions. Go with your spouse or a close supportive companion to think out the big issues. Be utterly frank with yourself and your assessments.

Answer the basic question: What is it you want to do with your life? Is it to experience career success, happiness, pleasure, good health, financial success, long life? To raise a family, have a congenial married life, become an artist? I hope your ambition is a realization of your potential.

Explore deep-seated desires for the long term in your initial retreat. And don't overlook success and excellence in the one- or two-sentence statement of your purpose in life. But I warn you, preparing a mission statement will be difficult to do.

Determining goals

Once you have set down your fundamental mission or purpose, write down major goals. You could have as few as 3, as many as 12--but they should be achievable, if somewhat unattainable in the short run.

Examples might include a general goal of improving your education and training. Let's explore this area for a moment. You might consider getting a master's degree in some field that will advance your career. Or earn the Certified Association Executive designation.

It is never too late to embark on a desired educational objective. I learned to speak Japanese fluently when I was 50.

One of your objectives under this education and training goal might be to upgrade your computer skills, perhaps become a touch typist within one year. This would be a short-term objective. But not all your goals and objectives should be aimed at career advancement.

Once you set down your mission, major goals, and specific objectives, you may find yourself wanting to go back and rewrite your mission statement. This often happens in associations as well. You find that you want to go in some general directions that really don't fit the mission statement or basic purpose. For example, if your mission statement is too career-oriented, you may miss out on some recreational and cultural goals, or even health goals.

Another example of a goal is in the area of financial expectations or needs. A broad goal might be to amass enough material wealth so that you can retire comfortably at age 55, 60, or 65.

Making trade-offs

I find that many people 30 or younger want to retire before the usual 65. Life does not always work out that way, unless you are prepared to sacrifice--or had wealthy parents. Most worthwhile achievements involve trade-offs--giving up some pleasure and time. Remember, no one ever grew broke saving money.

In my own case, I was 55 before I could really plan for my financial retirement. Up until then, I was too busy paying off mortgages on the eight houses we had occupied, paying for cars, and paying some of the cost of universities for four ambitious kids and myself--I got my master of business administration degree when I was 52. My wife and I were also examples of the new "sandwich generation."

Many of you will be, if you are not already, members of this modern-day phenomenon--that group of people who not only have to care and pay for children but for parents as well. This may become one of your long-standing goals. One of our kids was still at university when I was 68 and I was also supporting an 89-year-old mother.

In other words, you may want to retire at 55, but other considerations can get in the way. My goal was to retire at about 65 from full-time work and be financially comfortable enough so that my wife and I would never be a financial burden on our children. We have achieved that goal, and now we are busy on another goal: to spend all our children's inheritance.

Strategic planning for retirement takes on special meaning. Most people who have had active careers find retirement boring. Many take up hobbies grown rusty through disuse but find those unsatisfying.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, D.C., more than one half of workers leave their career employment before age 60, but two thirds remain in the labor force, holding one or more post-career bridge jobs. And more than one third of workers continue to work for 10 years after leaving their career employment.

Without wishing to be preachy, I suggest that with satisfactory health there is good reason to use one's talents for purposes other than recreation. It may be in helping charitable organizations--who more qualified than an association executive?

In my case, I decided to offer consulting services to small and medium-sized associations that could not afford the big-name consulting firms. It has been a satisfying experience, operating what turned out to be another kind of nonprofit organization.

Defining success

Coming back to the strategic planning process, the words excellence and success frequently appear in personal mission statements. These need to be defined somewhat to ensure that they are meaningful in the context of a major purpose.

For example, "to achieve excellence in your personal life" can mean many things to different people. For some, it means a happy home life or high achievement in scholastic studies. Achieving excellence should mean something at which you want to excel. Similarly, "to achieve success" could mean career rank, distinction in a field of learning, or victory in a tournament. It should mean accomplishment of an end aimed at attaining fame or position. One association executive once told me his mission in life was to amass wealth. I told him he was in the wrong business.

Getting started

Strategic planning has an important place in anyone's career and life. It is never too soon and never too late to start.

For many, the tragedy of life is not that it ends too soon but that they wait so long to begin.

As for me, seven years into semiretirement, now on a career path of association consultancy, I am starting to think of my next career and life move.

Perhaps it will be composing cantatas, or writing children's nonsense yarns. For sure, it won't be teaching hang gliding or performing self-taught brain surgery.

And on my tombstone will be inscribed: "Here lies Larry Ecroyd--who really feels he should be doing something."

Lawrence G. Ecroyd, CAE, is president of Ecroyd Consulting Service, Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. He previously served on the ASAE Board of Directors and chaired the Canadian Society of Association Executives, Toronto, Ontario.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:planning one's life and career
Author:Ecroyd, Lawrence G.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1831
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