In the book "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, Alice, speaking with the Cheshire Cat asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'

'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.

'I don't much care where,' said Alice.

'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.”

Not long ago, I asked my wife the philosophical question, “What are the top five things you want from life?” This question was inspired by a podcast I had been listening to from a guy named Khe Hy. He told a story about a client who was working in New York City and making really good money. When the client was asked this question, he responded, “I want to live in a cabin in the woods.” Ironically nothing he was doing in his day-to day-life was bringing him closer to doing what he really wanted.

Here is the vision my wife and I created based on this question:

My wife

1. Spiritual peace

2. Balance 

3. Financial security 

4. Health 

5. For my kids to not be complete jerks… and maybe clean up after themselves.

Me

1. Flexibility

2. Financial freedom

3. Time for hobbies

4. Time and ability to parent each of our kids

5. To help and serve others

This conversation deviates from the traditional “SMART” goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based. I do not want to discount the value of SMART goals. This conversation is more a way of finding direction and establishing a destination before you start setting your SMART goals. Remember that it didn’t matter which road Alice took until she decided where she wanted to end up.

As a financial planner, I ask my clients these questions and help them come up with a plan to use their resources, talents, and abilities in seeking to help get them closer to what they want before they miss the opportunity. A while back I spoke with a business owner who told me his strategic vision for his business was to simply “get bigger.” How big is big enough? It is my opinion that we will be happier and more driven if our goals have a destination which they are leading us to.

One way to help think differently about your goals is to develop a vision board. You may remember doing these vision boards when you were in middle school. In my classes we cut up magazines and catalogs and pasted them all over a poster board. As adults I still have clients work with similar vision boards to help them come up with a common vision for what retirement might look like. Sometimes it is interesting how one person can express something, and a spouse might have a similar vision but express it very differently.

Clients and prospective clients often ask me how much they need to retire. I always tell them that it depends how much you plan to spend in retirement. Each of my clients has a different idea of what retirement is as well as a different list of hobbies they would like to have. These variables can make a drastic difference in retirement. An African Safari or a classic car may not be in the cards for all of us.

Start with a vision. Once you can see where you want to end up, the road to get there will become much clearer. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your dreams. New Years is the perfect time to begin.

Joe Johnson is a Certified Financial Planner and owner of Sage Hills Financial. He can be reached at (509) 888-1556 or at joe@sagehillsfinancial.com. Securities and financial planning offered through LPL Financial Member FINRA/SIPC.