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I stopped working on my 10–year plan.

Why?

In the garden. The color caught my eye. The bee flew in while I was fiddling with the focus — and scared the daylights out of me.

Why would I stop? I love a good plan. 

As a brand strategist, a plan is how I’ve led change for iconic brands like Jaguar, BBC America, Cadillac, and others. It is also how my husband, Hal Wolverton, and I have led change in our lives. How we built our brand boutique, Johnson + Wolverton, and how we have brought some of our wildest dreams to life.

Change is my thing. It begs the juicy question, “Where do I go from here?”

Hal and I have had a 10-year plan in the works for more than 20 years. But not this year. Why?

In the last year and a half, chaos has reigned supreme. Instead of excitement about what’s possible, fear of the unknown started seeping in, creating a dangerous sense of disorientation. I know I haven’t been alone, but still, I thought to myself, “I’m a change agent, dammit. I’m good at this.” 

For the first time in a long time, the idea of thinking 10 years out seemed absurd to me, like a fool’s game.

So what’s the difference between change and chaos?

Chaos describes an overwhelming sense of disorder, a gaping void, and it often triggers panic, or what is referred to as the “stress response,” where your brain is flooded with the hormones of dread. There’s strong evidence that we’re a nation living in that cortisol state, our minds overwhelmed with stress, which according to neuroscientist Tara Swart, “biases our decision-making systems to avoid risk, avoid change, and avoid anything we feel like we can’t control.”

And right when we feel like we could really use a friend, many of us are disconnecting from our digital networks — the social town square feels too dangerous. In his fantastic TED talk about the state of our “social” world, Jaron Lanier said, “I don’t believe our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them. In the meantime, if the companies won’t change, delete your accounts.”

Two things took precedent over 10-year planning this year: Exploring the idea of hope, and exploring the idea of connection that isn’t virtual.

This winter I turned to my friends, family, and colleagues and asked them how they cultivate hope. I received a variety of beautiful answers. There were themes — mindfulness, self-care, connection. The insights so generously offered suggested that, for most of us, when we feel full of dread we cultivate hope by taking small actions towards better. In the process, I discovered that helping is the surest way for me to cultivate hope for myself. I look for something that I can do to help, and do it.

This spring I joined a load of people who said, “Enough, I’m going offline,” socially speaking. Instead, I’ve been looking for ways to be engaged in the immediate world around me. We’ve been having people over to our house (I feel the need to underscore here that Hal and I are very reclusive, hermits even), and we’ve been enjoying it. I’ve been talking to family, friends, and colleagues that are far away by phone or video conference rather than only email and text, and volunteering locally.

Still, I’ve been wondering, a lot, what the hell happened? Why has it been so impossible for me to work on our 10-year plan?

One of the most hopeful things that Hal and I have done over the last 20+ years is to collaborate on our dream future — what it looks like, what’s in it and what’s not.

It has taken me a little over a year to conclude that the underlying sense of optimism required to engage with a big, stupid, unwieldy thing like a 10-year plan is the basic belief that there’s going to be a future. 

Chaos undermines that.

I now believe that hope is an antidote to chaos. 

Hope is a filter system to the noise of chaos, allowing you to see the potential in change.

The work of hope is how I’ve come to think of it, and it’s the work of hope that has been my way back into our 10-year plan. Yay!

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The 10-Year Plan is a tool for leading change in your life, and it’s based on many of the same principles I use when crafting a brand strategy. Here, a recap of the fundamentals:

  1. Why make a plan? Change happens. Fall in the direction of your dreams.

  2. Imagination is king — you can’t get it wrong.

  3. The pillars of your plan are the areas of life that matter most.

  4. Pleasure + Gratitude – prioritize that shit.

  5. Every vision has 800 lb gorillas. The big thing you don’t want to face. Every gorilla has a critical risk, and every critical risk demands an action. Face, or figure out, what’s keeping you out of the arena.

  6. What are your values? (Hint: Look at #1-5… What are the themes? What do you want?)

  7. The bones of your plan are vision, objectives, and tactics. Vision often comes last.

  8. The plan is just the beginning. The long work is in the change practice, integrating what you’ve learned into your days, weeks, months, quarters, years,  and decades. Inch by inch : )

  9. NEW: Cultivate hope, actively and relentlessly. Figure out what makes you feel hopeful — meditation, being with friends, making art — and do that thing.

alicia johnson is a partner at brand boutique johnson + wolverton, an author, and co-creator of the forthcoming no88 store. 

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