Plans, Goals, and Why I Hated Them

I’m not much of a planner. I am the woman who took her three kids under the age of 6 to the beach without a diaper bag. I mean I have gone a lot of places without one but that was probably the worst. For the better part of year one with baby #1 I didn’t even own a diaper bag. I was just stuff a diaper into my tiny purse and hope for the best. I do that with grown up things too. I could “plan” an entire weekend away with my husband just by finding a sitter. Its more fun when there is no itinerary when things can go off track or something amazing you never planned for falls in your lap. My husband is the 100% opposite of that. He is stressed out when there is no plan. If I go for a weekend away or even out for the evening with friends, I’m talking when he isn’t even involved, he’ll ask what the plan is. If I don’t know or can’t answer any follow up questions I can actually see him get tense. Its not that he wants to make sure I’m doing or not doing anything in particular he just cannot wrap his mind around why anyone would want to not know what the plan is. One time, before we had kids, he planned a whole weekend away without telling me. It wasn’t meant to be a surprise or anything crazy it was just so I could feel like we got in the truck and happened upon a hotel an hour or so away and he could know all of the details.

So this is my style, has been for years. I never know what the end result should be so we’ll just see what it is when we get there. Younger me would add this is clearly the right way because how else do you allow God the space he needs to move in your life (insert a little “bless your heart” for silly, high and mighty, younger me). I did also try to apply this to work originally. As you can imagine, it did not go well.
“How do you decide which candidates to interview?”
“I am interviewing all of them, you never know what you’ll find.”
“What is the structure for the end result here?”
“I won’t know until I discuss with every stakeholder.”
“When is your deadline for (insert almost anything here)?”
“hmm well, I’ll have to get back to you when I have more information.” (this would literally continue until about a week before anything rolled out.)

Now, I can only imagine how frustrating that would be. Thank goodness I either had very supportive managers or I was very dense to their frustrations, likely a combination to some extent. They never knew when I would be done with anything until just before it was actually done.

The problem was that each deadline felt like a goal and I never know if I’m going to hit a goal. I can work toward it but there are so very many outside factors. How do I know if I’ll actually get there an in the prescribed time? Think about your typical New Year’s weight loss goal. You can research the best diet for your body, buy all the fresh organic food that complies with said diet, purchase work out DVD (because you also set a financial goal and a gym membership doesn’t fit in, good job you), carve out time on the calendar every day for exercise, and do your meal prep religiously…. and still not lose weight. First, there is always something that sets you off track like the extra Christmas party that lands in January. Then, you realize that you got a little over zealous with the type of workout you got and you really weren’t ready for the insane level of exercise. Finally, and this is important, sometimes you do all of the things and don’t get results. (For my friends who don’t come from the corporate world, exchange some verbs and nouns and all of this exactly the same in business, it’s essentially Mad Libs.) I can already hear some people reading this saying you just push through, one bad day doesn’t have to be a bad week or failure. I know that, but it does set your timing off course and potentially change the outcome.

You typically don’t plan in failures, big or small. You don’t plan for them in your weight loss journey or in your work projects. (No one tells you that Nancy isn’t going to pull her weight so you should only assign her menial tasks that you know you can get done quickly yourself if need be.) So on top of it feeling unnatural to me to set the goals and assign the timeframes, I also find the uncertainty painful. There is pain and frustration in going off course because you know where you “should be,” if there is no plan, I’m not off course, so there is no pain there.

A big part of the reason for this pain and frustration is that the goal, or original plan, just feels like this over arching need off in the future:
Hire and onboard a new employee.
Implement a new workflow.
Lose 30 pounds.
These things are a big deal. You can’t just treat them like they are a singular topic for “one day”. If you do that they really are terrifying! All of the naysayer talk, that comes from your own brain starts flooding in. Well I know I’m pretty good at gaining weight but losing it? I don’t even know how to lose 5 pounds let alone 30?! That kind of thing. Its the whole eat the elephant idea, you do it one bite at a time, starting at the ______. Those last four words are really key. You have to know where to take your first bite. (And yes, only I would combine an example about weight loss with an analogy of eating an elephant.)

A couple things I’m reminding myself of.

Ignorance is not a strategy. I have heard “hope is not a strategy” and relying on hope would be the nice way to put how I was running things. Really I was just sticking my head in the sand, which is worse. Wanting things to go well but having no idea how or if I was impacting them. Ignorance is also not bliss. Everyone being in the dark, including me, on what the plan is, what we’re shooting for, etcetera, was not making them or me happy. Sure things were getting done and as I said in the last post, I have always been a high performer, but it was almost by accident. I couldn’t even imagine what I could have accomplished during that time employing an actual strategy.

Diversion without a plan is not spontaneity it is chaos. This is because, if there wasn’t a plan to start with there is nothing to deviate from. It is frustrating to live out a plan that doesn’t work the way you envisioned but it is better than never seeing any of the progress. Notice though, I almost use plan and goal interchangeably. That is because now I’m starting to think of them that way. The goal has to have milestones and action steps attached to it. (I eat my elephant starting with the left ear then moving to the right.) When you look at it that way it becomes much less of this daunting expectation looming out in the future and more of a roadmap to where you want to be. The plan will show you where you’re off course but also point your way back on course again.

Make your plan, but hold it loosely. (Remember when I said that younger me was so proud of being plan-less, well this is my more mature, refined version.) I am still a big advocate for margin and white space on your calendar, just not a blank slate. I firmly believe that we are given opportunities to be present for people, and situations, to pour into them. It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to see these opportunities if you’re holding tightly to your plan, your intention, your goal. You develop tunnel vision that way, you have to keep your eyes up. You will also miss an opportunity to refine your strategy on that goal. Maybe you’re still planning to lose weight but it went from winter to summer. Sure you can keep doing your DVD, or you could take a step back, reevaluate, and decide to start kayaking, or hiking, or running. So plan the marathon run, the budget to pay down debt, the career aspiration, but intentionally leave some wiggle room, leave the white space. Make the room for God (insert the universe, or anyone else you choose for that matter) to work, redirect, or allow you to show up by building in the margin.

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