Planning is Worth Everything and Nothing

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”― Benjamin Franklin

As a former architectural student, I know the value of a good plan.  Blueprints are a way of life.  Nothing of any significance gets built without a plan. That’s a good life principle too, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out centuries ago. I lean heavily towards the Planner side of the spectrum as opposed to the F.B.T.S.O.Y.P. (Fly by the seat of your pants) frame. How about you? What side are you on? Are you in the middle?

Our planner tendencies drive us towards wanting a blueprint for life.  We want to know what is going to happen, where it is going to happen and when it is going to happen. Unfortunately for us planners, life can get frustrating because things never go perfectly according to plan.

Life offers a scroll instead of a blueprint. Remember scrolls? Scrolls were things the Ancients used to write their words on. We don’t know how the scroll ends until we unravel it all the way.  Such is life.

Planning is a good and necessary skill. We have a picture in our head of where we want to go and how we want to get there. Then life happens. How we fulfil the picture in our head changes.

Phil Hansen shares his fascinating story in a 2013 TED talk, Embrace the Shake. As an art student he developed a shake in his hand. Not a good thing for an artist who needs to be able to draw a straight line. He said that at the time he first discovered the shake, it was the destruction of his dream of becoming an artist. Years later he decides to go to a neurologist only to learn he has permanent nerve damage. The shake is here to stay. The wise doctor said to him. “Why don’t you embrace the shake?” So he did. He realized that he could still make art, but would have to find a different approach to it. The end result was beautiful, unique art pieces. He needed “to become limited in order to become limitless.” (You can check out Phil’s TED talk here.)

Benjamin Franklin was right; we will fail if we don’t plan. However, more often than not, the plan goes awry. So we incorporate the detour as part of the journey. We have all had unexpected things happen to us.  I didn’t expect to be laid off or fired from two different jobs. Those unforeseen events become a part of our journey. They help get us to where we are today.

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So what is the alternative?

  • Expect the unexpected. Allow enough margin in the plan to change course as necessary. The successful N.F.L. team can adjust to unexpected formations by the opposing team. Even if they have not seen a particular formation, they can figure it out and adjust accordingly.
  • Roll with it by focusing on solutions. We don’t waste a lot of unnecessary energy on asking “why” in the heat of the moment. There will be time for answering the “why” question later. Now is the time to focus on solutions. Make the necessary adjustments to the sails to get back on course.

We don’t know what we will face tomorrow. We planners have an image of our tomorrows. But at the same time, we know that life doesn’t go according to plan. Nevertheless, the miracle of life is that the unplanned things can become our very source of joy.