“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” ~Proverb
I’m a “recovering perfectionist.”
I make perfect plans. At times, when I’m really working on my plans, I forget to live my actual life. Because I’m planning. Perfectly.
I had my first strategic plan when I was 10.
“Be a really, really good girl. Then, when you are 16, borrow the car and say that you are going to Drug Fair to buy hairspray. Instead, drive the 15 minutes to your daddy’s house so that he’ll want you back.”
A year later I had to revise my first strategic plan. My alcoholic father died.
Here was the second plan:
“Now you’re all alone.” (Which wasn’t true, by the way. It just felt that way. Anyway, back to the plan.) “Now you’re all alone. Be perfect.”
In the first plan, I just had to be “good” to be rescued. In the second one, there was no rescue.
I needed to be perfect.
(Perfectionism Myth #1 Perfection will keep you safe.)
That plan “worked” for a while. I had started playing the flute the year my father died. My great grandmother told me not to cry and upset my mother. That was okay. Perfect people don’t cry.
(Perfectionism Myth #2: Perfection is a way to manage hard feelings.)
Perfect people practice.
I practiced perfectly enough to get a music scholarship. I practiced so long and so well they let me keep that scholarship even though I switched to the business school.
(Perfectionism Truth: Perfection translates into real money.)
I was a perfect marketing major—the “first in your class” kind. The carry 23-credit hours, while playing first chair in the orchestra and being on the board of student government kind.
I was working my perfect plan perfectly.
But there was one problem.
It wasn’t sustainable. And I certainly wasn’t happy.
As I look back on my experience in those years, I see that I needed to keep ratcheting up my performance levels to get the same “fix” of safety from my perfectionism. I used accomplishments as an anesthetic from life—from my fears and sorrows.
And I had long since forgotten why I was doing what I was doing.
Instead of enjoying my accomplishments as landmarks of my journey, I was pursuing perfectionism for its own sake. It was my way of life.
But here’s the thing, Sweet Cheeks. Perfectionism doesn’t keep you “safe.” It exhausts you.
Perfectionism doesn’t help you handle difficult feelings. It actually complicates the grieving process.
Perfect planning does not guarantee perfect outcomes.
If you are stuck in the endless “ratcheting up” of your game, it might be time to take a step back from your life and make sure that where you’re headed is where you want to go. Otherwise, you may make the mistake that best-selling author Stephen Covey so brilliantly outlined in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
You climb and climb the “ladder of success” only to find that when you reach the top, it’s leaning on the wrong wall.
Today, instead of “planning” my life, I have adopted a new approach that makes me a lot happier.
1. I plan as an artist would approach a canvas—in “broad strokes.”
My plans are simple outlines of my vision. I make only a rough sketch of what I hope to accomplish. When you over-plan, you can’t allow for magic, whimsy, or inspiration.
Broad Stroke Planning allows me to be nimble and flexible. It also enables me to take advantage of unforeseen gifts, insights, and opportunities as I move forward.
2. I take lots of actions and let go of all results.
Here I take a lesson from my former career in sales. Good sales people see the selling “cycle” as a “pipeline” that moves a prospect along the process toward the close.
The process begins at “first contact,” then a follow-up call. If that goes well, you set up a meeting, then you have the appointment, then you make your proposal, and some of those proposals—a very few—will result in the sale.
At the outset, you don’t know which “first contacts” will make it all the way to the end of the pipeline. But you don’t have to know which will close, because you do know that a certain percent always do.
Amateurs look at the “back end” of the pipeline and worry, fret, and manage outcomes. Rock stars manage the front-end of the pipeline. They take lots and lots of actions, and almost ignore the results.
Remember, a certain percent will always work out. Your job is to take action after action after action. The results take care of themselves.
3. I absolutely insist on enjoying life.
Life is happening in the present. Right now. (Oops, were you distracted just then? Sorry, you missed it.) Plans are for the future.
Thus, to enjoy my life today, I must be present to my beautiful journey, even as I am working toward a longer-term goal. Yoga, fresh air, art, laughter, joy, friends, family, beautiful suppers help me to enjoy the moments, even as I take those “front-end actions” toward my vision.
Stay in touch with your beautiful now while you raise your gaze, from time to time, to your glorious future.
So make your beautiful plan, but don’t spend your whole life at the drawing board. Make a sketch and then get up, get out, and live your beautiful dream.
It’s the leap that counts. Not the landing.
It’s the leap that counts. Not the results.
It’s the leap that counts. Not what anyone who sees you take flight thinks about your journey.
It’s the leap that counts.
And remember, when you stand at the edge of the cliff and leap into your new dream, one of two things will happen.
Either you will be caught by the hand of grace. Or, you will grow wings and fly!
Photo by Justin Hee