Today the world seems to be getting more and more chaotic. Wars and rumors of wars, violent weather in diverse places, and even the global financial market meltdowns are sure signs of trouble beyond our control. In the midst of all of this chaos somehow we are supposed to manage our lives and continue to maintain a level of sanity. The world is full of variables that challenge our ability to stay focused on accomplishing the tasks that have been set before us.
The process of managing your life begins the day you are born and is not concluded until the day you pass away. Developing a life plan provides you with the ability to manage life. However, developing a life plan is not as simple as it sounds. Just consider the number of variables that have direct and indirect influence over your life. As you begin the process of developing your life plan, you will be distracted, pressured, and caught up in the chaos of life. But you have to step away from the chaos and focus on developing your life plan. It is that important.
There are five general phases of every person’s life: Discovering, Establishing, Accumulating, Distributing, and Bequeathing. Each of these phases has unique characteristics that will shape the framework of your life plan. Most do not consider the need for a life plan until they are well into the accumulating phase. After they have begun to accumulate wealth, position, status or a number of other phase markers, they realize the need for a more structured way of navigating life.
Unfortunately, few people experience strong mentoring relationships with the key people in their lives who model solid foundational principles. The results are generations of adults who have more of a herd mentality than an entrepreneurial mentality. The difference is found in having to follow the crowd or thinking from a position of self-sufficiency. The earlier that young people are introduced to the idea of having a written life plan, the greater their potential for growth becomes.
The five foundational elements of life (and your life plan) need to include a value system (what you esteem in high regard), a belief system (what or who do you trust in), a behavioral system (what are the drivers behind how you act and react to the world), a logic system (what filters do you use in acquiring and disseminating information), and a principle system (where do you draw the line). These five foundational elements are all developed from a very early age through experiences.
So let’s quickly look at the five phases of life for the purpose of this series of developing a life plan. The first phase is discovering. From birth until seventeen years of age, we spend an inordinate amount of time absorbing information. We really haven’t begun the process of organizing, valuing, and discarding the vast amounts of information that we are processing in this phase. Needless to say, the five foundational elements are being formed through this process of information overload.
When children cannot make sense of all of the information and experiences being thrown at them, there is great potential for the five foundational elements to become corrupted. This early corruption causes many to reject the right things, accept the wrong things, and lack the ability to know the difference. For better or for worse, children eventually make it through the discovering phase and move into the establishing phase. From about eighteen years of age until about twenty-nine, the young adult is focused on staking their claim in life.
It is in this phase where the young adult begins to establish his place in the world. The career path, the social-economic status, and the political and world view are established. This is also the phase where everything learned in the discovery phase is tested and tried to see what you can believe in and what needs to be discarded. Unfortunately, some things that are discarded are of value and other things that are kept are of little to no value. This is a time of measuring by pleasure rather than logic.
If the five foundational elements are strong, this phase usually results in positive outcomes and experiences. If the five foundational elements are weak, the results can be confusion and a lack of moral and functional judgment. The discovering phase has progressive and permanent affects on the establishing phase. Although most of the affects are not immediate, the progress of the affects will be amplified by the level of stress to which you are exposed. The greater the stress, the more immediate and elevated the effects will be. Having a life plan positions you to be able to deal with and overcome these effects.
What is instilled in the discovering phase will be manifested in the establishing phase and it will be realized in the accumulating phase. The accumulating phase generally falls between the ages of thirty to about sixty-five. The focus of this phase is to gather wealth, possessions and knowledge. If you purchased a house in the establishing phase you need a bigger one in the accumulating stage. If you made $40,000 in the establishing phase you will be looking for promotions and raises to exceed your previous income levels. This whole phase is about building up your resources through accumulating.
A life plan developed early will pay big dividends in the accumulating phase. A life plan established through necessity will assist in the accumulating phase. But a life plan delayed until this phase will need to be aggressively executed to provide lasting benefits. It can be argued that those who wait to put a life plan into motion until the accumulating phase are predictably less likely to benefit.
The five foundational elements of life will have major consequences in the accumulating phase. If your value system is weak, your belief system is nonexistent, your behavioral system self-centered, your logic system is fraught with fallacious arguments, and your principle system is based on self-aggrandizement, then it is likely that the accumulating phase will be plagued with anxiety and stress.
By discovering what establishes your personal foundation and acknowledging the weight that those drivers produce on your life, you can develop a life plan that allows you to adapt, adjust and overcome the residual effects of poor guidance, dysfunctional modeling, or the lack of mentoring. It is not always easy. It is not always without costs. But it is worth it to free you from the influences of the past.
Between accumulating and the last phase of life, there is distributing. The distributing phase is where you begin to share all of the wealth, knowledge, and experience that you have accumulated over your life. This phase encompasses the time from age sixty-six until your passing. By now you have lived most of your life in the income producing years. Income should be understood as any source of wealth or gain from life experiences, including financial, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. All gain is a form of wealth.
Sad is the man who only has his immediate family show up at his funeral. Even sadder is the man who has chosen to leave behind only a coffin, a headstone, and little else. In the distributing phase there is a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and encouragement to be shared. Even if you are in the distributing phase and did not have strong foundational elements throughout your life, you can still make the decision to learn what you have learned throughout your life and choose to begin to share it. Wealth is not squandered until you are no longer here to share it.
When you pass from this life to the next, your life phases continue even though you do not. What you leave behind is as important as what you gave while you were here. In the bequeathing phase your legacy continues to impact the next generation. It is the full circle effect. Your legacy becomes the next generation’s discovery phase. It is the wisdom, knowledge, and resources that you leave behind that have either a positive or negative impact on your decedents. Leaving behind a small amount of financial resources with the wisdom and knowledge of how to handle those resources is far better than leaving behind great wealth without wisdom and knowledge.
A life plan is about paying it forward. How you manage your life can have a dramatic impact on not only your immediate sphere of influence, but the sphere of influence of so many who come behind you. The lessons that you learn in this process can be passed on as wisdom, experience, and knowledge. These are the pillars of the five foundational elements of a strong character. One cannot be expected to make sound decisions without first acquiring the wisdom, knowledge, and experience necessary to do so.