At the beginning of every year, I sit down and do two things. First, I go over the old year in detail. What did I plan to do, what did I actually do, and how did it go? We all tend to remember the big things in a year, and many of us tend to focus on the negative ones. This process makes sure I don’t forget the less dramatic but just as important things. Mainly, it helps me keep everything in perspective.
Most years this takes a whole morning or afternoon and it ends up being a four or five page Word document.
The second thing I do is set goals and make plans for the coming year. Over the years I’ve learned to set goals for what I really want, not what I think I’m supposed to want – and not what I’d kinda like to have but I’m not willing to do what’s necessary to get it.
Additionally – and here’s where I’m going with this post – I take a look at my five year plan. How’s it going? Do I need to give it extra emphasis to make sure I stay on track? Does it need to be adjusted? And when it’s done, how did I do and what can I learn from the process?
This year I closed out one five year plan. But instead of starting a new one, I’m going to consider 2021 to be an intercalary year and start the next plan in 2022.
This is one of those posts where I’m writing through something on my own, and I’m posting it because some of you may find it helpful. If you do, great. If you don’t, I’ll be back to blogging on Pagan and polytheist stuff on Tuesday.
Why I make five year plans
I think I first heard the phrase “five year plan” in the Cold War – they were part of how the USSR operated. I don’t remember studying them in school, and I don’t think I ever read about them on my own. But the term stuck with me.
Every place I’ve worked in the corporate world has had some form of long-term plan. The annual plan is very specific and action-oriented, while the three year or five year or however many year plans are more general. They’re used for things like setting R&D budgets and planning factory capacity.
Trying to incorporate political and corporate processes into your personal life is problematic – individual goals and resources are very different. But there is wisdom in looking further down the road than the current year. I picked five years because I was familiar with the term, but as it turns out, it’s about as far into the future as I can project with any reliability. My five year plans have been helpful.
What do you want to be doing in five years? How do you want to be living? What will it take to get you there? Set your goal, then make a plan to achieve it.
I had a five year plan that ran from 2016 through 2020. The goals, the plans, and the results are highly personal and I will not be sharing them. You’d find them boring anyway. What’s important is that when I started to think about the next five year plan, I realized that my next long term goal has a hard date attached to it in early 2027. That’s six years away.
Now, there’s nothing sacrosanct about five years – I could simply make a six year plan. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate to take 2021 as an intercalary year.
Intercalary periods are liminal zones
Merriam-Webster defines intercalary as things “inserted between other things” – especially things in a calendar. It also refers to those periods of time that don’t properly belong to one calendar or the other.
For many of us, Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day is an intercalary period. We finished the old year and our businesses or schools are closed until the new year begins. Of course, not everyone gets this – much of our world is set up to go 24/7/365.
But where they exist, intercalary periods are liminal zones – those times and places that are neither within nor without. They’re a time outside of time when normal rules don’t apply. They’re a break to clear your head, but they’re more than that.
They’re magical times.
The difficulty of making long-term plans right now
Given my predilection for long-term thinking and planning, my initial impulse was to either make a six year plan, or to make a five year plan and then extend it next year.
The problem, of course, is that the pandemic makes long-term planning very difficult.
We all had things planned for 2020 that got canceled. One of my 5 Things to Pay Attention to During the Lockdown was “this is not the time to dwell on long-term plans.” At one point I was living week to week.
I don’t do well without a clearer vision of at least the mid-term future, so I started extending that out to a month, then a couple months. I have some fairly firm plans for February and March right now. But beyond that? Who knows.
I know where I need to be in 2027. But what can I do now to help get there?
I don’t know. Not because I don’t know what to do, but because I don’t know what it will be possible to do.
Rather than stressing about making and working plans that may not be possible, it seems better to skip the long-term plans this year – particularly considering that it’s likely (though far from certain) that I’ll be able make plans with some confidence next year.
So 2021 will be an intercalary year for me.
I still have goals and plans for 2021
That doesn’t mean I’m going to wing it in 2021. I need goals and plans for my mental health.
I have maintenance goals for this year. These are things with my health, my paying job, and my spiritual life that are currently good but that require constant reinforcement to stay good.
I have progressive goals for this year. These are things I want to find the time and energy to do sometime in 2021. None of them will happen on their own, and barring a major degradation in the state of the world (and this country) they’re within my control to do. So I’m listing them as goals so I don’t forget about them and end up this time next year wondering why I never did them.
But I have no long-term goals and plans for this year. I know where I want to be in 2027 and I know some of the things I need to do to get there. But I’m giving myself permission up front to not work on them in 2021.
If the year goes well, maybe I can do one or two of them. If it doesn’t, then I can’t.
And perhaps more importantly, if other opportunities present themselves during the year, I can jump on them without worrying about how they’ll impact my long-term plans.
Playing a bad card well
It’s always a challenge trying to figure out when to push forward and when to back off. I tried to cut myself some slack last year, and I encouraged others to do the same. “Business as usual” simply isn’t possible during a pandemic. At the same time, I didn’t want 2020 to be a lost year. And it wasn’t, due to a combination of doing the right things and good fortune.
What will 2021 be? The high-level outlook is not good. The details are unknown, and mostly unknowable. I’m going to push myself to do the things I know I need and want to do, that I know I can do.
But the long-term goals will have to wait. And that’s OK.
Because for me, 2021 is now an intercalary year.
And intercalary years are liminal zones.
We will see what happens…