Visualize Your Future with an Odyssey Plan

Odyssey plan

“Fresh ideas from the Blacklight”

SBC’s Weekly Newsletter for Professionals

Life is pretty much upside down right now. On top of freaking out about the prospect of getting sick (or that a loved one will come down with coronavirus), many people are in a professional limbo as well. That’s why today, we’re assigning some homework to help you visualize the better days ahead. So, whether you are chugging along with work as usual, suddenly laid off, or a new grad facing a hiring freeze, drafting your Odyssey Plan is the perfect distraction for this moment in time.

If you’ve never heard the term before, an Odyssey Plan is a brainstorm about how you would like your life to look in the future. Flash-forward five years from now and come up with elements that make up the version of you that’s “living your best life.”

Focus on specific areas, such as work, fun, love, and health. When you rate your current satisfaction levels in those areas, how do they stack up? What changes could you make to get closer to that best-life goal?

“If you plan for nothing, you’re going to get nothing.”
Bill Burnett, Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford University.
(Also, he coined the term Odyssey Plan.)

How to make an Odyssey Plan

We recommend you watch Burnett’s entire Odyssey Plan playlist to really get your design juices flowing for this project. (A complete Odyssey Plan has many different elements.) But here’s a preview of the concept.

Start by creating three different five-year timelines. Each of these versions should include professional and personal milestones, as well as bucket list items. But remember, the timelines must look distinct from each other. If you’re having trouble visualizing three radically different versions of your future self, Burnett suggests you frame the plans this way.

In one version, you blow out a plan based on what you think you’re going to do. In the second timeline, ask yourself what might happen if Plan 1 disappeared, and you needed to pivot. Finally, version three is what your life would look like in five years if money or image were no object.

As you consider each plan, ask yourself questions such as: What will I learn if I do this? Will this fulfill me? What will I enjoy about this path?

Come Up with a Prototype

When you’re ready to explore one of these plans further, it’s time for the prototype phase. Here, you find out whether you’re on the right track with something that’s a good fit for you. While getting started seems daunting, Burnett breaks it down into three simple steps.

  1. Get curious.
  2. Talk to people.
  3. Try stuff.

Find someone who’s already doing what you’re interested in, who has your preferred life, he suggests. These people are already living your future. See if something in those conversations resonates and confirms that you’re moving in the right direction.

Then, find ways to try on that life for size. You need both conversations and “lived experiences” to help you decide, Burnett explains. “An experience will tell you something that a conversation can’t,” he says. “But both are important mechanisms for coming up with ways to prototype your way into the future to see if it’s going to fit for you.”

How often should you make an Odyssey Plan?

There’s no prescribed time to make an Odyssey Plan, but many people find it a useful exercise to do every few years. Make one when you are:

  • facing a lot of change
  • graduating from college
  • want to change your job
  • want to change your career

Transitional moments like these lend themselves to Odyssey Plan-making because they force you to figure out what you need to do to move forward. More ideas create more choices, so brainstorming like a designer can help you get “unstuck” in your thinking.

Burnett believes having an Odyssey Plan helps us invent the future we want because we get charged up with ideas and ready for action. “When you have a plan, and you put your intention out in the world,” says Burnett, “you give the world an opportunity to step up and give you what you want.”


Did you enjoy this post about visualizing your future self?  It originally appeared on the Blacklight, our weekly newsletter for professionals. At the Blacklight, we aim to illuminate with every dispatch that lands in your inbox. If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer, sign up today!

Everyone can use a few hacks to work smarter in today’s hyper-paced world.  the Blacklight has you covered with productivity insights, off-beat tech and business news, plus tips for how to deal with common perils of the modern workplace. If you are thirsty for guidance to help you slay it in life and at work, sign up today.


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