Painting a Specific Future

A few weeks ago, my wife and children and I spent the weekend visiting several members of her extended family. On the final morning of the visit, I sat around the kitchen table with my wife’s grandfather and uncle and the conversation turned to the future. Her uncle turned to me and said, “What do you think you’ll be doing in five years?”

I didn’t really have an answer.

Sure, I have lots of long term goals of all kinds. My wife and I want a house in the country, of course, as I’ve mentioned many times. I’d like to get a novel published, one that I’ve been working on for a long time. Financial independence is a big goal, of course. I know, in broad strokes, what my life will look like in five years, barring anything I can’t predict.

But when I look back to the goals I’ve been successful with in life, they’ve been very, very specific in nature. If I set a goal of not spending any frivolous money for a month, I can achieve that goal because it’s clear to me what I need to do to get there.

On the other hand, with the less tangible big dreams in my future, I find myself a little more aimless. I have a hard time tying those big dreams to actions I can take today, so I’ll sometimes forget about them.

The challenge for me is this: I know where I want to be in five years, but the road to get there is sometimes covered in fog. I don’t have a good grasp on the things I need to be doing along the way – other than generic things like spending less than I make – in order to reach those goals.

On the way home, her uncle’s comment stirred me into action. I want to set a few very specific and clear goals for the future, along with very concrete paths on how to get there. Doing this lets me know what I need to be doing all the time to reach the things I want.

So, without further ado, here’s where I want to be in five years. I’ve set up three very specific goals, along with the path to reach each one.

Goal #1: Total Debt Freedom

That means paying off our entire mortgage, which has a balance around $165,000, as well as all other remaining debts. In five years. Including remaining student loans and auto loans, that adds up to about $190,000.

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

Each month between now and October 31, 2014 (when my five years are up), I would need to knock an average of $3,200 off of my total debt balance. That’s an incredibly high number, one that pushes me to really bear down on our situation. In the first few months, I simply won’t be able to reasonably apply that much towards the total balance.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

The biggest thing I can do to support that goal is to make the $3,200 a month goal as reasonable as I possibly can. This means coming up with additional ways to earn income. Thus, each month, I need to develop a new potential avenue for income related to The Simple Dollar and my other endeavors. Preferably, these take the form of passive income – I can invest a substantial packet of time once and then enjoy the fruits of that labor over time. This would mean designing more “downloadables,” perhaps creating a few self-published books that are collections of posts organized in a logical fashion, and other such avenues.

Goal #2: Learn a New Language

By “learn a new language,” I intend to learn enough so that I can engage in an intelligent conversation with a native speaker of said language on pretty much any topic, and I’d be successful if I were to visit the countryside of a nation where everyone only spoke that language and no English to help me out. This is something I intend to do with my family in the future.

I’m not entirely sure which language, but I’ve narrowed it down to four options: German, French, Italian, and Norwegian. French and Norwegian are slightly in the lead.

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

The goals for making this work are much more specific. Each weekday, I could spend an hour in language training using a tool like Rosetta Stone until I’m familiar with many of the words of the language and can hammer through basic conversation. Once I’m there, I would just continue to immerse myself in the language, listening to radio in that language as I worked and so on.

I’ve had a lot of success with short-term immersion in other languages in the past, but I never subjected myself to continued practice of the language.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

I live near a university, so one option would be to enroll as a part time student and take classes in my language of choice. This would enable me to gain some additional practice in actually speaking the language.

To put it simply, the best way for me to learn is to seek out every opportunity I can to immerse myself. The best way to start, though, is in my home.

Goal #3: Get a Novel Published

Right now, I spend maybe a few hours a week working on fiction, usually turning out a short story in that timeframe or editing/polishing an older one. I completed a novel several years ago, but when I look at it now, I deeply dislike it.

I actually enjoy writing fiction quite a lot, perhaps more than the essay-style writing I do on The Simple Dollar. I can purely focus on story and character rather than passing along information directly.

So why not take advantage of my situation and see if I can get my feet wet in the fiction world?

What can I specifically do this month to achieve this goal?

Each month, I need to finish five short stories. By finish, I mean write a first draft, let it sit for a month or so, re-read it and polish it, and perhaps repeat the “let it sit and polish it” routine a few times. From there, I’ll pass the stories to my wife and let her choose the best one, then I’ll attempt to publish that one (and perhaps put the others out there on my personal site).

Once I feel much more adept at fiction (wait… does anyone really feel adept at writing? I still feel like an amateur and I’ve written millions of words over the past several years.), I’ll begin to tackle a novel that’s been forming in my head for a very long time. I’ll start that at roughly the two year mark.

What else can I be doing to support this goal?

I should talk directly with the people I know in the publishing industry (thanks to my personal finance books) and see where they point me. I also need to put substantial effort into getting my good stories published so that I’m noticed in the fiction world.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn. Where do you want to be in five years? Can you pick out three specific goals that you want to achieve? From there, can you break those goals down into specific pieces that you can start working on now?

Setting goals have helped me get to my current station in life. There’s no reason why they won’t help me keep climbing the mountains to my dreams.