The challenges Americans faced during the last two years have caused many to feel uncertain about their future, redefine what is most important to them, and rewrite rules to chart a new path.

Northwestern Mutual’s recent survey about this shift, which it defines as "The Great Realization," identifies some of the current concerns of a growing number of Americans and their desire to plan the lives they truly want to live.

“In the survey, we found that most millennials and Gen Xers are planning at least one major life change in the next two years,” according to Tim Gerend

what is the first step in this important journey? “The first step in financial planning is to determine what the client’s unique goals are, and then develop a plan to enjoy life today, while also planning for the future,” Gerend said.

Planning can feel overwhelming, he said, “and commonly we hear that younger people have put it off because they feel they aren’t affluent enough, are intimidated, or think that shorter-term goals do not require a financial plan.”

In fact, Gerend added, “our survey showed that 1 in 4 millennials and Gen Xers (24%) still think only of long-term goals like retirement or saving for college when it comes to planning.”

Many more people seem to be asking themselves: “If not now, when?” Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they worry that if they don’t start acting on their life goals in the next 12 months, they might never get around to them.

Despite their urgency, fewer than 1 in 5 respondents (18%) feel completely prepared to start making progress toward those goals.

“Overall, we’re seeing that most respondents are in the right mindset, but they need to create a deliberate, comprehensive financial plan and talk to a trusted expert to turn their realization into a reality,” Gerend said.