Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

Part 9: The Defining Moment Arrives

Do it.

That’s all there is to this step. Oh, there’s more stuff to do, but that comes after. In the meantime, you really have run out of excuses. You’ve marshaled your resources, you’ve come up with a plan of action, you’ve not only calculated the risks of failure you’ve also considered the risks of success.

There’s nothing left. There’s nothing else keeping you from it. So it’s time: let your Defining Moment happen.

Don’t Miss Your Moment

One thing you do need to work on, probably, is the ability to be present in the Moment.

  • Don’t tweet about it.
  • Don’t instagram it.
  • Don’t take any pics at all of it.
  • Don’t start blogging/journaling about it in your head as it’s happening (you know who you are)

Just pay attention. Pay attention to everything – the feeling of your body, your emotions, your reactions. Don’t try to predict what’s going to happen – just experience it happening.

Some Defining Moments are easier to do that with than others. If you’re skydiving, for example, then you pretty much don’t have a choice. Gravity works, and this is happening!

On the other hand, using the example of the person picking up my book in a bookstore without even knowing me that is my Defining Moment, well, I have a ways to go, right? And how can I manage to have it happen “spontaneously”? There’s only one way for that to work, and it’s exactly the same as fishing.

The First Step to Catch a Fish

…is to find a lake.

In the “author” Defining Moment scenario, I have to do a lot of things, including writing a book. But even when the book is out I still need to remember to spend the time at the bookstore. Not watching my book! That would be creepy. And a little sad, I think.

No, the point is that I need to hang out in the places that make my Defining Moment more likely to happen. If that’s wanting to see people pick up my book, then that’s the bookstore, right?

No. Not at all. The place I need to hang out is my desk. My computer. The places where I write. I’m going to end up at bookstores anyway – but in order for the Defining Moment to happen, I need to create an environment where it can happen.

That environment is not a bookstore. It’s a bookstore that has books by me. And while technology is a wonderful thing, the books still do not write themselves.

Is your Defining Moment going to happen on it’s own? And if not…then what are you doing to make it happen?

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the practice of respect

“I don’t just give respect. You have to earn it.”

I’ve never understood that idea. It requires a level of magical thinking that just doesn’t work for me: “I expect you to understand what I value, what kinds of actions I admire, and act in accordance with them before I will recognize your worth and value.” How am I supposed to know that? Sure, you could tell me – but at that point, am I taking actions that are authentically motivated, or am I doing them in an attempt to buy your respect through my actions.

It’s a common trope in dramas: someone, usually a son, does some heinous action or some complex plot to finally get some father figure’s respect (Inception, I’m looking at you). Or the flip side, when someone, usually a woman, chooses to take independent action (often sexually related) and is asked “Don’t you have any self-respect?

Um, yes. In fact, I know for a fact that it was when I was trying to live up to external expectations that I showed the least self-respect.

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courtesy grahamc99 via Flickr CC

Given, Not Earned

I would like to put forth the idea that respect is not ever something you can really earn from anyone else – not in any genuine sense of the term. Rather, I think that respect is something that can only be given. I can choose to respect someone, based on whatever criteria I choose. What is respect, anyway? I’m not going to choose the easy route and look it up – instead, just think for yourself: what does respecting someone mean? Here’s some of the things that I can think that it means:

  • Admiration, perhaps even emulation
  • Inherent Value
  • Acknowledging their right to self-determination
  • Seeking their counsel, or simply their presence
  • Listening to what they have to say, and seeking to understand it

Now, I’m not saying that one should admire everyone. Nor is everyone qualified to give counsel on any subject (present company included). But I also don’t think that there’s any reason not to acknowledge inherent value, a right to self-determination, and above all seeking to listen, not just hear, and to understand, not just respond.

I don’t see why that shouldn’t be a level of respect offered to any human being. Notice it did not excuse them from the consequences of their actions, nor does it have any expectation that they will extend the same respect to me.

They don’t need to. I have my self-respect, and part of it is the necessity of giving respect to everyone I meet and know, even those that I despise with a passion.

But it takes practice. Constant practice and vigilance, and there are times when I have to remind myself that respect applies even when someone is not present to feel it. Gossip doesn’t hurt only the subject of the comments – it lessens the people talking with each other as well.

If I were a better philosopher, I could probably draw some direct comparisons between “respect” and “compassion” – both as concepts and as practices. As it is, I just have this feeling that the two go hand in hand. On a hot July afternoon, that’s enough.

What do you think? Is it possible to earn respect? Or is it simply something that you can increase the odds of being given by leading a good life?

modeling the adult you want to see

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OK, I admit, that’s not necessarily the best role model up there – feeding donuts to my grandsons before lunch. However, they are Greenbay Packer donuts from the Greenbush Bakery in Madison, WI, so at least…um…they’re kosher?

A Better Model

My grandson on the left there, Harvey, doesn’t have much contact with his father. That makes Father’s Day not a terribly enjoyable one for him. His mother, my Eldest Daughter, noticed that, and so she decided to create a different holiday.

She called me and a few other men in her life – my father, her stepfather, a few friends from work – and invited them over for what she called “Great Men’s Day.” What she was looking for was for Harvey to get the idea that there are men in his life who care for him, and for him to spend some time with them. She had originally thought of having “Manly Contests” such as belching, meat eating, and…well, I don’t know exactly what, but I’m happy to say that she instead listened to Harvey and asked him what he wanted to do.

What’s a Man?

Biologically speaking, there are a lot of traits that are different in men than women – but not as many as you’d expect. Men are not from Mars; Women are not from Venus. There aren’t “masculine” and “feminine” traits like sexual aggressiveness or bonding or cuddling or competition; there are simply traits that are influenced by levels of hormones such as testosterone and oxytocin, and both of those are present in various levels in every human being, from the raunchiest player to the most stoic asexual to the completely monogamous couple celebrating 50 years of marriage.

It’s a beautiful spectrum. And I’m really happy that my daughter gets that, and she didn’t force any stereotypes or cultural memes on Harvey. When he said he didn’t want burping contests, she was ok with that; when he said he wanted music, she made sure there was some playing.

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Because of schedules, the men showed up in staggered groups. First my Dad, then myself, and we fired up the grill and told him stories about my Grandfather. The time when I rolled a toy right through a plate glass door. The time my Dad drove his car into a lake. The time he’d served in North Africa and Italy fixing bombers, reading papers by the fires of the burning wings (as he used to tell it).

We also emphasized that he had loved us very much, that we couldn’t remember him yelling or hitting or losing his temper. Then Chris, the other grandpa, showed up and talked about theater and musicals and more with Harvey. When I had to leave, the young boy was earnestly trying to get my daughter’s work friend to play with a little action figure. I laughed as Harvey finally sighed, looked mournfully at the man, and said “You probably don’t understand anything I’m telling you…”

As the man sputtered “I DO understand! I DO!” I just shook my head and smiled. Harvey is turning into a wonderfully creative, sensitive, but also mischievous young man, and it’s because of the love that we share with him and he gives right back. I’m proud of my daughter for seeing the need and giving him what he needed, and proud of my Dad for dropping everything and showing up, and grateful to the other men for helping my grandson turn into one of the good men.

Lord knows we need more of those.

The Defining Moment Part 8: Resources

Whatcha Got?

If you’ve been trying out these various exercises – figuring out what your Defining Moment is, working out the details of it, assessing the risks of trying for it and then also trying to foresee the consequences of success – you may be pretty excited. I hope you’re pretty excited, anyway! When you look at the composite parts, it’s a pretty amazing thing to realize just how close your dream might actually be.

Time to step back.

That’s right. I said step back. Because now you need to take a moment to figure out what things you need vs. what you currently have that can help you get to your goal.

These resources need four pages of their own, each with two columns: have and need. The resources are divided into four main categories: People, Skills, Tools, and Information. Let’s start with the “Have” columns, because they’re going to be much, much bigger than the “Need” column, and that will feel really good.

1. People: Who do you know? Make a list of your family members, your friends, your business partners, your acquaintances. You might want to branch it into people you’ve heard your friends/family/biz partners talk about, too. Basically this is a list of the people to whom you have some kind of access. Don’t let yourself give any “Oh, but they wouldn’t want to help…” answers. WRITE THEM DOWN. They are (I assume) human beings, endowed with free will, and you do not get to decide for them whether or not they’re willing to help. You only get to decide if you’ve got the guts to ask, and if you’re willing to accept what help they want to give.

2. Skills: What can you do? And don’t you dare say “nuthin’ much”, because if you can read this then you are certainly somewhat capable with computer skills. You probably have other skills, as well, and keep in mind that “skill” falls into the realm of “something you can do.” In this case, yes, you probably want to keep it in the realm of your “Defining Moment” – but let your mind wander. One skill that I have that I used today was putting up shelves. How does that relate to my Defining Moment of watching a person pick up a book I’ve written in a bookstore? Well, perhaps the bookstore belongs to an acquaintance, whose agreed to give my book a premium spot on the shelves if I install them. Stranger things have happened; one of the best authors/illustrators I’ve ever read, Nick Bantock, got his start because of a drunken dart game. So if “inebriated cricket” is in your skillset, put it down. Because you never know.

3. Tools: As I mentioned, you’ve already proven your ability to leverage one of the greatest tools ever: the Internet. But don’t stop there. Vehicles are tools. Rooms and houses and furniture can be tools. Clothing, machines, silverware…make a list of all your available things that might help with your Defining Moment. I’ve got a computer, a keyboard, a lot of books on writing, and a schedule that I can use to motivate creation. I’ve got WordPress, which enables me to write this book. What do you have? Cars, roller skates, that weird doodad you got from IKEA that looks so cool if you could only remember what it does…they all count. Write them down!

4. Information: This time do not mention the Internet. Why? Because the Internet is where you go to recall or acquire the knowledge you don’t have. What do you know how to do now? Again, put down everything. Juggling. Pancake flipping. Stripping an M16 in less than a minute. Stitching a wound. Wiring a porch light. Prepping a cigar. What do you know how to do? I know how to write a book; notice I did not say I know how to write a good book. So maybe I’ll put the former in the “Have” column and the latter in the “Need” column on the INFORMATION page.

When it comes to needs, don’t worry about it much. First of all, by doing the “HAVE” pages first, you’ll probably find out you already have most of what is required to get to your Defining Moment. As I mentioned, that’s a good feeling. Any time something does go in the “NEED” section, take a moment to ask yourself “Do I really?” Just once, no need to belabor it – but it’s worth double checking if you’re making up “NEEDS” because what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance” is trying to keep you from your goal.

I confess, this whole exercise is something that I love to do in group sessions, because invariably someone comes to an obstacle of some kind and someone else in the class – often a complete stranger – will raise their hand and say “Oh, is that all you need? I can give you that.” I’ve seen it happen with everything from private tutoring in Portuguese to the loan of an isolated cabin in the mountains outside Seattle.

If you’re doing this exercise solo, it might be a little more difficult to arrange that kind of kismet. But you might be surprised if you put it out there that you are working towards a Defining Moment – something you are passionate about, something you love, something that will make you smile so widely – at how many people want to help you make it happen. I’m not one of those people who believes that the universe will re-align on a quantum level to adjust to your wishes. I do, however, believe that Fortune favors the bold and Of course the game is rigged – but if you don’t play, you can’t win. Or, as one of my idols puts it better:

…the threads of circumstance that lead to tomorrow are so tenuous that all the fussing and worrying about decisions is futile compared to the pure randomness of existence.

I must admit I like that.

- Nick Bantock

Note:I didn’t get any feedback the last time I created a worksheet to go along with an entry like this. If you would like to have some “Resource” worksheets created and distributed, just let me know.

what I learned from Ignite

I realized the other day that while I had talked a lot about the Ignite talk I did here in Madison, I hadn’t actually posted the video.

Since giving the talk I also ran my own mini-Ignite event at a convention in New Jersey. The experiences had some interesting similarities as well as differences. Here’s a few of the thoughts:

  • Focus is exhilirating. One of the newbie mistakes I made with my first Ignite was trying to shoehorn an existing essay into the five-minute format. When I stopped and stood back and asked “What am I actually trying to say?” it suddenly all became crystal clear, and watching it all fall into place was immensely enjoyable.
  • Keep It Personal. The best talks were the ones that the presenter obviously was passionate about, and had a personal and direct interest in.
  • Rehearse, but not too much. The strongest Ignite talks that I saw were the ones that were not over-rehearsed – that is, they didn’t seem to have every word in place, or seem like they were just reciting from a script. It relates to the message being personal, and letting your feelings carry through.
  • Five Minutes is Enough. Every presenter was able to make their point within the time limit. Even extremely technical subjects such as nerve pathways through the arms were able to be clearly and dramatically expressed. This might hold some bearing the next time you or someone else thinks you need a long time to talk about something. Do you really? Especially when…
  • Five Minutes is Powerful. By the end of both events, my head was swimming with new knowledge, crammed into our brains by the presenters. It was like finishing a great book, or an engrossing movie, or losing yourself in some stage play where the actors really catch you up in what’s going on. If you really want to drive a point home, maybe it’s worth paring down the message to only five minutes, because the impact will be powerful.

What do you think of the presentation? Of the format? One last thing I found: it’s addictive. I can’t wait to do it again…

love is more resilient than we know

Tough Love

…unconditional love? Stop telling that story.
Courtney A. Walsh, “Dear Human”

There won’t be much to this post, because first, I’m driving across the country to give a talk in Akron, OH, the land of two of my heroes: Brad Warner, author of Hardcore Zen, and also David “Chuck” Jones, a former marine buddy of mine with whom I defended the beaches of Southern California from the imminent threat of Communisim.

Successfully, I might add.

Second, I really think that everything I hoped to say is said in that poem above, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time that would have been spent reading the next 800+ words reading that poem slowly. Reading it out loud. It speaks truth in the way that only good poems can.

And the Too Long; Didn’t Read version is: stop worrying about whether or not you’re loving “right” or “wrong.” Love is tough; it will be there, and keep coming back in some form, no matter how many mistakes you make. The key is that you try,

That you shine and fly and laugh and cry
and hurt and heal and fall and get back up
and play and work and live and die as YOU.
It’s enough. It’s Plenty.

Defining Moment Pt. 7: the consequences of success

What If It Works?

“You could go with this. Or you could go with that. Or you could go with us!” – Fatboy Slim

Risks are one thing. They are mishaps that can happen along the way to your defining moment. If you want to skydive, the obvious risk is that your chute might not open. But then there are also the risks of the airplane malfunctioning, the pilot making an error, you tripping as you climb the ladder into the plane, having a car accident on the way to the airport – all risks.

But the thing is that our inability to accurately foresee the future makes us forget that even when things do go according to plan, the result is rarely what we expect. The next step in your Defining Moment process is to try and figure out what the results of success might be.

Succeeding is not Success

The purpose of this step is to try and prepare yourself for at least some of the possibilities. For example, let’s suppose that you have a dream (as I have) of going to Paris. I would like to be eating beignets and sipping espresso as I watch the pretty French people walk by with their noses in the air at the scruffy Americain in their midst.

Let’s ignore all the steps necessary to get there and say that I was there. What are some of the possible outcomes?

  • I will discover I don’t like Paris as much as I’d hoped, and lose that dream of a city that never was.
  • I will discover that I love Paris far more than I expected and leave everything behind to live there, probably over the Moulin Rouge.
  • I will miss so much work during my trip that I lose my clients and my living.
  • I will get enough material on my trip to write the definitive memoir of this millenium’s American in Paris.
  • I will contract food poisoning from undercooked beignets.
I won't look anything like this. But I'll FEEL like this.

I won’t look anything like this. But I’ll FEEL like this.

This is a simplistic list, but as much as it varies, it all is a possible outcome of my making it to Paris. Stranger things have happened from milder events. For example, in spite of having many friends who skydive, I have never had the urge – until I recently, on a whim, watched an episode of a spy show where the heroine jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gleefully, and cavorted around in the sky.

I suddenly realized: I want to cavort in the sky. And so begins the saving of money, the lessons, the tandem jump, and eventually, the cavorting. I’ll let you know how it goes (or, I suppose, someone else will). It wasn’t the military, or a lifelong love of thrillers, or dating the daughter of a U.S. Ranger Parachuting Instructor, or anything else that made me want to take up that risky goal. It was simply the fact that I set, a long time ago, a goal of being a “Location Independent Professional” – that is, able to work and relax anywhere I was.

So when I found myself in an airport, having just finished an article for a client, I treated myself to an episode of Covert Affairs on my iPad. And boom, I now have a new, completely unexpected goal as a result of succeeding at a past one.

Success is a myth, anyway - success as a result of succeeding, that is. Anytime you work towards a goal, you automatically move the goalposts. The moment you arrive, you see somewhere else you want to get to, and the journey continues. Strangely, the only way to reach “success” (the noun) is to stop “succeeding” (the verb). It’s that moment when you say “Ok, this is enough. I can make my place here.”

I think that’s also called “being happy.” Sure feels like it, anyway.

the practice of joy is hard

“Shared joy is increased…” – Spider Robinson

In some recent travels my co-presenter and I were discussing the idea of joy and misery. She remarked that there were times that the misery in the world seemed overwhelming because there was so much of it.

“But isn’t the world also filled with joy?” I countered. “Even in the most miserable conditions humans manage to find moments of joy, laughter, connection…that’s been proven time and again.” I’m a big fan of Maslow, as you might expect.

She nodded, but then shook her head. “I know. Maybe it’s just that I’m more sensitive to the misery…it’s just so much more noticeable than the joy.” It reminded me of my undergrad, when I was trying to create pieces about happiness and positive emotions in the midst of a cohort of angst-and-anger-filled dance students.

My professor at one point chastised me, saying that in order to make meaningful work I needed to stop chasing fluffy clouds. “Happiness is overrated!” he declared.

“Oh yeah?” I challenged. “Well, misery is easy!”

Something Happened

Of course, from a zen perspective neither joy nor misery are anything but the added layers of meaning we put onto things that happen. If I stub my toe in the night, is it because I was a clumsy idiot? Or because my partner thoughtlessly moved the table? Or because I’m starting to lose my eyesight, as indicated by my lack of vision in twilight?

It actually doesn’t mean any of those things – it simply means that the table met my toe at a moment in time. Everything else is a meaning that I give it, and even if it turns out that I am going blind, that is also simply a thing.

What that implies is that we do, technically, have the ability to remove the filter of misery from things that happen. I stub my toe, I say “OW!”, and that’s that. My toe and the table don’t benefit from worry, from blame, or made up stories.

But it’s hard to get out of the habit of dwelling on the misery, especially as you work to develop a practice of awareness. My co-presenter quoted a feminist slogan for me: “The Truth will set you free – but first it will piss you off.” The more you pay attention, the more awful and injust and downright bad the world can seem.

Practicing the Joy Filter

Plus, it’s entertaining. People want to hear about other people’s misery, hence the rise of journalism, reality TV, soap operas, epic fantasy, and the blues. We are surrounded by a miasma of portrayals of misery combined with marketing designed to convince us that we are also miserable – until we get that new phone, that new watch, that new thingummy.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice, once in a while, the joy filter. You don’t have to get all polly-anna-ish and declare only the good things. I think it can be more subtle than that. I think it has to be more subtle than that. One technique I’ve heard of, for example, is the practice of ending each day by writing down three things you’re grateful for. Supposedly that practice will change, gradually, your perspective on life.

It sounds worth it to me. Personally, I am currently in a place in my life where I’m more happy and fulfilled than I ever could have imagined. I look at my life just a few years before and wonder “What the heck was that guy thinking?”” Part of why I’m feeling so good these days, though, is because I was lucky enough to have the free time to really study how to be happy, and try to make it work.

Most people don’t have that luck. And yet even knowing this, I still sometimes fall into my old habits. If someone says “How’s it goin’, Gray?” my first reaction is to say something like I’m so busy! or Tryin’ to pay bills! or Overworked and underpaid!

Why is it so hard to just tell the truth: I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s because of the people and work and play in it?

It’s because I’m out of practice doing that. So I try, in small steps. Sometimes when I’m heading off to some exotic locale (such as Piscataway, NJ, where I’m returning from as I write this) I hear someone make some comment like “Gee, rough life, eh, Gray?

I used to respond quite angrily to this: “I worked hard to get where I am! I have a right to what I’ve accomplished, and if you wanted it, you would do it too!” Thankfully I got over that, mostly, but then I would often respond with some long, drawn-out explanation of why this life is not actually glamorous, of the many pains and sacrifices and frustrations that come from self-employment.

But that’s not really helping either. I mean, if they look at my life and have an inaccurate idea of what it’s like, so what? By trying to correct their impression I’m just taking away from a happy thought.

So my conscious practice now is, when I hear someone say that, to respond with “Yes! I am a very fortunate man!” In my head this is said with cheerful smiles and a merry tone. In reality, according to at least two of my friends who heard me say it this past weekend, I’m still sounding grumpy and maybe even a bit whiny when I say it.

That’s ok. The practice of “fake it til you make it” is a time-honored method of habit change. It is a wonderful thing to remind myself that I have a great life.

After all, if you don’t notice the good around you, there’s no way you’re going to enjoy it. And wouldn’t that just be a shame?

Defining Moment Part 6: how to assess risk productively

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There’s a great podcast out from the Guardian’s Science Weekly where psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer talks about risk. He makes the point over and over again that first, people spend a lot of time worrying about the wrong risks, and second, even the ones we should worry about are just about impossible to predict.

I’d like you to try and remember that as you go through this next step in the Defining Moment process. You see, now that we have an action plan of getting what we want, it’s time to figure out what are the risks of actually putting it into action.

What if I wrote a novel and nobody read?

We can still use my own D.M. to show this process. What could be the results of actually writing that book so that the person in the bookstore could pick it up? In no particular order,

  • I could go broke because writing kept me from a “real” job
  • I could lose touch with family and friends because I’m writing/talking about the writing all the time.
  • I might get carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing.
  • I might forget to bathe, contract a skin-eating algae, and die in a puddle of green goo still trying to fix that one verdammt paragraph.

Ok, so that last was a little ridiculous. But go for the ridiculous! Write about all the possible risks you can think of.
Planning session

But don’t stop there. Write about the “good” outcomes as well, and extrapolate them. Maybe I write the book, and it becomes a bestseller, and I become the next Stephen King! But then he got his dream house, and ended up getting run over…but that gave him a better perspective for finishing The Gunslinger saga…but that is something he’ll likely never trump, so it perhaps means the end of his epics…

See what I mean? Try to think of all the possible results. Don’t worry about how to deal with them-as much as possible, anyway. I know that for everything you put down your brain will say one of two things: “Well, that’s not very likely!” or “Well, if that happens, then I’ll…”

We can’t help it. We make plans, and a good portion of what seems to be “people handling stress well” is more “people prepared to handle stress.” Creating this fun Risk List conditions your mind not only to anticipate outcomes but also automatically starts you out on how to solve them.

Prepare to be Surprised

Just don’t forget that second principle: life is inherently unpredictable, from the flip of a coin to the stock market. What that exercise in coming up with the risks of attempting your Defining Moment Action Plan is doing is conditioning your brain to handle new results…and that increases your resilience when that thing that you weren’t expecting happens. Next week we’ll take a look at the strategies that can help you when that happens.

The list is also going to come in handy after you take action, as a possibly entertaining look at how different reality can be from what we plan.

What if you did it right, but actually planned it wrong?

via Jake VanderMolen (Flickr CC)

I keep forgetting #14. WHY CAN’T I REMEMBER #14!?!

“No kidding, there I was…”

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend at a retreat in Indeana with a few other performance art enthusiasts, including a very dear friend of mine from New York. He was talking about a recent show he did:

I really thought that was it – the best show I’d ever done, the most perfect expression of my art. It wasn’t until I got offstage that I thought of a couple of things that didn’t go the way I planned, two places where I’d done it wrong…

I looked at him and blurted out: “What if you did it right, but actually planned it wrong?

You Are Your Own Worst Back-Seat Driver

It’s not as though this was something that I’ve always known – it took hearing him say it in that way to make me realize it. When we are making plans, we are doing our best to predict variables that are, by their very name, unpredictable. Life doesn’t work like the old Mission: Impossible TV show, with every tiny step leading inexorably to the pre-planned goal. Life is messy.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan – it means that you should plan for everything, including the chance that things will happen that you haven’t planned for. There’s a strategy for that (OODA) which I’ll talk about next Monday. Right now, though, I want to talk about that evil version of yourself.

It’s the version of yourself that looks life and thinks that what happened should have matched what was planned rather than vice versa. It applies to more than performances; it applies to your entire life. I could sit here and look at how my career is nothing like the Web Design Entrepreneur plan, the Video Engineer plan, the Dance Technology plan, the Music Teacher plan, the Insurance Agent plan, the Emergency Medical Technician plan, the Career Marine plan, the Broadway Dancer plan, or even the Firefighter or Astronaut plan.

Should I really beat myself up because the plan that I came up with when I was 14 years old to get a senatorial recommendation to West Point didn’t work out that way? Was there any way anyone then could have predicted the variables, from the worldwide political landscape to the functioning of my thyroid gland?

More to the point, if I’m currently doing work that is meaningful and enjoyable to me, that provides me time to pursue other goals like family, friends, and movies, why would that be considered wrong?

It seems to me that if there’s anything that was “wrong” (such an unfortunate label) then it was the plan itself. That’s not really fair to the planner, though – would you let a 14 year old boy plan out the rest of your life? Why should the Published Novelist plan be any more accurate? It’s fine to have goals – but it’s not ok to beat myself up if life gets in the way.

There’s an old Zen adage: “Loose the arrow. What it hits, you call the target.”

Are you beating yourself up about plans that didn’t go right? Maybe it’s time to let that go, and look at it as practice for making better plans instead.

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