How couples can create a shared plan for the future
Last December, I took a trip to Europe with my cousin Duane. Before I left, I received email from a GRS reader named Matthias. “If you come through Switzerland, let me know,” he said.
The stars aligned so that Matt was able to join us for several hours on a train across the Alps. He brought Swiss chocolate and a bottle of whisky. As we talked — and became pleasantly buzzed — he told me about how he and his wife tackle couple goals together via five-year plans for their future.
“I love this idea,” I told him. “Will you write about it for Get Rich Slowly?” He did. This is Matt's story about creating a shared vision as a couple. Enjoy!
In the spring of 2006, I'd been living and working in Taipei, Taiwan for two years and my contract was about to expire. Soon, I'd be returning home to Switzerland.
On a pleasant weekend evening in my downtown flat, my Taiwanese girlfriend and I were reminiscing about all of the wonderful memories we'd made. We waxed nostalgic about the two years we'd enjoyed together. But it dawned on us that if we didn't make some bold moves, our relationship might be coming to an end.
We opened a bottle of fine wine in order to enhance the depth and wisdom of our conversation. Before long, we'd switched from sweet nostalgia to dreaming about our potential future — together.
Imagineering the Future
My girlfriend had just graduated from college and was working in her first job. For my part, I’d just received an offer for my dream job — but it meant I'd have to move back to Switzerland.
The wine was an effective dream enhancer. We let our imaginations loose as we talked about how we could potentially live our lives together. The future took many shapes.
- Where would we live?
- What jobs would we work?
- How could we both be as happy as possible together?
Honestly, it was overwhelming. Our lives three months ahead were like a blank slate. Everything seemed possible! Nothing was certain! Anything could happen!
In order to conceptualize our thoughts and concerns, we decided to write down all of our dreams and goals on yellow stickynotes. This mother of all brainstorming sessions took us half an hour. We each wrote down what was important to us, stuff we’d like to achieve, skills we’d like to acquire — in short, what we’d like to do with our lives in the next few years.
Next, we organized those dreams in terms of feasibility, urgency, and requirements. (To meet certain goals, we had to accomplish others first.) During this process, we tried to keep things fair. We both got the same number of stickynotes. All goals were open to debate, yet at the same time we tried to figure how to best help each other achieving them going forward! Our aim was to work together as a couple.
Step three was to put up an A3 formatted white paper on the wall, draw a timeline from 2006 till 2011 – yes, we were going to plan out the next five years of our life! – and arrange our couple goals in a meaningful way to our life’s “game plan”.
Our dreams included things like:
- Get married.
- Move to Switzerland.
- Save for a new home.
- Learn German.
- Start a business.
- Become parents.
In a nutshell, nothing extraordinary — the things young people usually dream of. It was clear that some goals had to be achieved before others. We agreed that pursuing them in a specific order made sense. Then we arranged them accordingly on the timeline.
Becoming a Dream Team
Planning our future was an ecstatic activity. In fact, doing so was the defining evening for our relationship.
That very evening, we actually decided to get married. We decided to chase our dreams together as a team. She was 23 years young; I was 26. Little did we know that this shared activity would help us tremendously on the path to our dream life. We had become a dream team!
We got married in early 2007. My wife started to teach Chinese in Switzerland, and she learned German while I pursued my career in banking. Together, we saved up for a home. In 2011, we became parents and moved back to Asia — this time to Singapore. It was exactly five years after having put up our dream map on a wall. Somehow, we'd achieved every single one of our couple goals.
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” – Earl Nightingale
We got so excited once all of our dreams had became reality that it wasn't the last time we’ve opened a bottle of wine while plotting our future. It has actually become a habit that we both enjoy and look forward to. We’ve done a new and updated five-year plan three times already. Currently, we’re in the middle of the 2016-2021 cycle.
Half-way through, we've made good progress toward our current couple goals. By mid-2017 we’d achieved financial independence. I was able to quit my job in Singapore, which gave me time to focus on a new business and on my blog, Financial Imagineer. Our family (now four!) moved back to Switzerland to enjoy more quality time with my parents and extended family.
Creating a Five-Year Plan
Before you can start living your dream life, you have to plan it. (And if you have a partner, you should plan it together.) They say that if you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail. It’s crucial to find the map to your dreams before you go into the woods! A good plan makes all the difference.
With your partner, pick a date to meet about a week or two in the future – preferably a nice evening where you won't feel pressed for time. Set aside two or three hours. Maybe make it a date night.
You both want to get your brains started in advance on what you want to do with your lives. Don’t share too much with your partner before that evening. Don’t think about limitations or potential difficulties. Dream big! Think outside of the box. Think about what you really would like to achieve in life.
As the big night approaches, prepare the following ingredients.
- A fine bottle of wine (or any other fine adult beverage of your choice).
- Two glasses.
- A large piece of A3 paper. (For you Americans, that's about 12 inches by 18 inches.)
- Some small stickynotes.
- A pen.
- Two open minds willing to share their dreams.
When the time arrives, tape the A3 paper to the wall, open your wine (or other beverage), and start a conversation about where your thoughts and dreams have drifted over the past couple of weeks.
As you talk, draw an x-axis with the next five years: 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024. We like to use the y-axis to indicate urgency/importance. (The higher the goal is on the paper, the more urgent and/or important it is.)
Next, each person should take ten or twelve stickynotes. On each, write one of your dreams or goals for the next five years.
When you've both finished writing down your goals, share them with each other. Share why you believe certain dreams are worth pursuing. Share what kind of time or money or other resources it will take to fulfill each dream. Drink another glass of wine!
After you've discussed all of your dreams as a couple, start putting the stickynotes onto your dreamboard. If two (or more) goals conflict with each other, take the time to talk about them. A little friendly, loving debate can be good when developing couple goals.
When you're done, take a photo of your dreamboard, then “seal the deal” by finsihing your bottle of wine.
Going through this process will allow both of you to express your wildest dreams. Don’t be shy about expressing big ideas. Dream big. Think big. No limits shall be set in this part of the exercise. It’s all about letting your imagination flow freely. This allows both of you to fully understand the wildest dreams of your partner.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein
Plan, Take Action, and Persist
The next step is planning how to get where you want to go. Here, you ought to discuss the details. What will it take to accomplish what you want to accomplish? Where and when will you do these things? What do you need to change in order to realize your dreams? As a team, decide how to allocate and invest your (limited) resources.
After you've planned, it's time to take action.
Many people are living their lives on autopilot. The majority of humans will only change course in their lives if they don’t have a choice. Spelling out your dreams and making them into goals helps to switch that autopilot off — but you’ll have to learn to fly by yourself.
You won't actually be alone, though. You’re a team. This is very powerful because you can become each other’s cheerleaders. Together, taking (bold) action becomes half as frightening. Don’t fear failure. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Then you try again. Fail more, fail better. Don’t stop trying. Don’t get stuck.
Once you've agreed to achieving your couple goals together, you’ll have the strongest partner you could ever imagine. Once you take the first baby steps, this bond will only get stronger. On the way towards your new goals, you’ll have to outgrow your comfort zone, you’ll have to learn new skills, you’ll have explore and grow.
It’s paramount to be persistent. A team of two has better odds at succeeding in the long run. So, stick together. Everything is figureoutable!
Think of this dream-teamwork as an alignment of forces or vectors. Only if you’ve discussed and agreed on how to move ahead as a team can you actually drive at full speed towards your future and make your dreams work.
The how, any potential issues or problems will shrink together to merely nothing if you align your lives. Understand your partner, empower him or her, permit each other to pursue dreams and support your choices going forward. Stop wishing, start doing. Be bold, don’t be afraid: Re-imagineer your life!
“Imagination has no age and dreams are forever.” – Walt Disney
Making a Pact
The following photo was taken in Japan in 2017, where we made our last dreamboard together before switching gears in our lives once more. My wife and I had made a pact to build our best life possible.
It’s already been two years since we agreed to pursue our next set of couple goals. We’re almost at half-time through this five-year period and I’m happy to report that we’re getting there! And we’re getting better as a couple. We’ve kept moving towards our dreams even stronger and more committed than before!
We sincerely hope that this article has inspired you to reflect on your dreams and shown you a way to pursue them with your partner. We all have different dreams, different hopes, different ambitions and goals in life.
If you’re in a relationship, don’t shy away from sharing what’s close to your heart. Communicate your innermost dreams, write them down, and agree to pursue them together as a team.