More Benefits to a Life Plan (Part III)

I love to say “yes” to people. There is a real pleasure in making someone else happy, seeing their needs met, and in honoring God, all by using the gifts He’s given me to benefit another person.

Saying “yes” when that requires a sacrifice – going to an inconvenient location, staying a bit later on campus when my family is waiting for me at home – is certainly harder. But I remind myself that the life of a disciple is not supposed to be easy. Saying “yes” in these moments is one way to demonstrate the reality that God’s kingdom is more important than my own interests.

But the requests can be endless. There are over 300,000 students in Boston. A short email from a blog reader, with just a few questions, can take an hour to answer. Comments and messages from friends on Facebook about crucial social issues require a thoughtful response. What great opportunities! I thank God for these relationships and conversations. And yet – at what point does the “yes” become hesitant, then arrive with an unhappy complaint, and finally, lapse into an exhausted or angry “no”?

Quick Recap

So far, we’ve considered seven huge benefits to developing a life plan: clarity about your values, a developed personal integrity, stronger friendships, motivation to act, intentional growth, the avoidance of fads, and experiencing progress instead of stagnation!

In this post, we’re going to consider how a Life Plan protects you from burnout, gives you courage to take wise risks, and finally, maximizes the impact of your life.

1. A Life Plan Protects You From Burnout

When you have a well-developed life plan, you know what your priorities are. You know where to invest maximum energy and time. You’ve thought about your boundaries and your weak spots, so you know where to say a gracious “no.” You can be excited and consistent about giving your best to your best opportunities, but firm about not frivolously over-extending yourself in other areas.

Does this mean you never change plans? Not at all. In fact, by building a healthy margin into your Life Plan (financially, emotionally, and with your schedule), you are more likely to be able to respond to emergencies or special needs. You might even dial back some commitments so you can make it a priority to help one person a week “just because.”

The point is: When your overall life is in sync, you have the reserve capacity to do more from time to time. But when you’re burnt-out and running on fumes, you don’t even have the strength to focus on your main priorities.

2. It Gives You the Courage to Take Wise Risks

When you have a strong Life Plan, you know when to take risks.

For instance, a few years ago, I made a significant career transition from the parachurch world to working in a church environment. While a number of factors affected this decision, the crucial one was recognizing the alignment between my strongest values and the new opportunity with Church of the Cross. By beginning that job search process with a few weeks of reflection, prayer, and conversation with mentors and friends, I had an invaluable guide for knowing which jobs to pursue – and which jobs to avoid.

Every path through life involves risk. Invest in high growth stocks and you might suffer huge losses. Invest exclusively in Treasury bills, an apparently ‘safe’ choice, and you risk not saving enough to retire! Which risks will you take?

A Life Plan doesn’t – and cannot – eliminate risk. But you will know which risks are worthy of hazarding, giving you the courage to live boldly.

3. It will Maximize the Impact of Your Life

In guiding college students, sometimes I watch students confusingly drift from major to major, one kind of job to another, and generally wavering from semester to semester. By valuing every choice, they end up valuing no particular choice very strongly.

Now, some of the drifting pans out, and by a stroke of good fortune, the student stumbles into a field they really love, develops expertise, and moves forward in a beautiful and inspiring way. But at other times, the student limps into graduation with lots of confusion, huge student debt, and no clear plan or opportunities. This is always heartbreaking.

By contrast, the students who deliberately experiment with different options, carefully weigh each major and career path with their own interests and abilities, and then, select a clear path forward, emerge from their college years with a developed expertise, valuable networks, a focused job search, and an excitement about their future. (Of course, not everyone gets a job immediately – some things remain outside of our control).

What’s true of the college experience is, in this regard, more generally applicable. A Life Plan maximizes the college experience. It can do the same for your first job or your fifteenth. To strengthen your first marriage, or, perhaps, for your third. But whatever your circumstances are today, one of the best things you can do is make a decision about where you are headed and why. Otherwise, you are just hoping for a lucky break.

In Conclusion: Hit the Moon!

To sum it up: as one saying goes, “aim for the stars and you might hit the moon.” I get the idea, but that’s ridiculous. Aim for the moon and you might hit the moon. That’s a pretty major achievement.

A Life Plan will make it clear what your personal “hit the moon” goal ought to be. This will keep you from burning out on other goals (like reaching the stars and the bottom of the sea too), empower you to take risks (like getting in a space shuttle!), and maximize the impact of your life.