Having a long term plan and goals for yourself can be a great guiding principle for your life, but we often find that things don't quite go according to plan or we don't like where the current plan is taking us. Had someone told me in August 2009 that I would be where I am today, I would have laughed; at that time my plan was to remain focused on a 20-year military career and how I could advance my career or find new challenges to keep my interest in that plan, but things obviously didn't work out that way. In my case, trying to plan long term is rather difficult as I've become accustomed to constant change and have a hard time sitting still for too long. So, how does someone come up with a long term plan, roll with the punches when things don't go according to plan, and not become bored with everything?
The first nine years of my adult life involved all sorts of change. I didn't actually live anywhere longer than a year and a half without moving (be it across town or a different country), had to deal with a high personnel turnover in my work environment because of the normal military flow, and had to adjust to changing circumstances all the time either in the office or with the doctors as my body started to show major signs of wear and tear. With all this inconsistency around me, I had to learn to be flexible. There were times I couldn't plan for 3-4 weeks out, let alone trying to come up with long term career and personal goals. In learning to be flexible and adapt to a constantly changing environment, it helped me to prioritize what was important to me and introduce some consistency into my own life to act as a slight counter-balance to everything around me. This also helped me to dictate the pace of things around me for a while, even in a workspace where I wasn't the senior person in the shop.
I have a major issue with keeping intrigued with something over a long term period. I have never owned a vehicle for more than five years for the sole reason of wanting something new because I'm bored with what I was driving. Professionally, I've experienced the same types of feelings of boredom over a shorter period of time. Five years ago, my challenges were becoming the first in my immediate family to earn a college degree and to get promoted to Sergeant. Though I accomplished both, neither of those challenges was enough to keep me interested in school, or even my military career, for a period of time. I had started finding school boring and it showed in slipping grades, and continuing to miss promotion (in addition to having to come to terms with my medical issues changing some of what I could do with my career) caused me to become complacent in my position and rank at the time. It took a couple swift boots to the fourth point of contact to re-focus and get past this bit of complacency, but once I did, I was able to continue on and find new challenges as I started completing the ones I had been working on.
You hear it all the time, it's important to have a strong support network in your life. It's no exception for me with my ambitions at times. I've needed to have co-workers and friends reel me in from time to time because my ambitions make me lose focus on what's important in the shorter term. As a software developer, I'm finding myself somewhat bored with doing things repeatedly in a way I know and am comfortable with. I don't find as great a challenge in those things today as I once did and in part it comes from being a wiser person. But, I have to also remember that I'm not writing software just for myself and that it's important to keep the target user in mind before setting out and re-inventing a code base I've written just because I want to, and that's where the support network comes in. It's important to have friends to slap you across the back of the head when you start to lose focus on what should be the priorities in whatever it is you're doing at the time, but they should also support you when you have ambitions to try something new. Balancing it all is equally as important here.
There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, in seeking change if it makes you happy. Truthfully, change is important sometimes; there are times you have to be taken outside your comfort zone to see how happy you are. If you're truly happy with where you are, then keep doing what it is that's gotten you there. If you find that you aren't happy though, don't just accept it because it's the easy way. Be willing to task (calculated) risks and better your situation, and don't be afraid to fail when taking those risks. I couldn't have asked for a better year than what I've had so far in 2014; there have been ups and downs, but overall I am a happier person today where I am now than if I stuck with my original long term plan, or any of the revisions, by staying in the military.
The most important thing I think in keeping me focused has been being able to adapt. I've had to adapt my lifestyle because of medical limitations. My coding environment and techniques have had to adapt to an evolving industry. And my own goals and desires have been adapted to outside influencers from time to time for various reasons. This really ties in with remaining flexible but for me is important enough to say again; you HAVE to be able to adapt to your environment and the changes it will throw at you to be happy and successful.