Friday Musings: When Plans Change
My wife, Neely, and I live to plan. Every Sunday afternoon we’ll congregate around the kitchen island pouring over our calendars, occasionally commenting about what the upcoming week looks like. She thinks of everything: “You’ll need to cut the spaghetti squash Wednesday morning so I can get it in the oven before you’re home.”; “I figure we will stay in and have steak and wine Saturday night since next weekend is my brother’s graduation.”; “the dog’s haircuts are this month, so what do you think about getting the AC summer check-up next month?” We get a sick pleasure in watching things go according to plan. Our fridge, meticulously ordered and overflowing on Sunday, enters Saturday with little more than a few eggs, a handful of spinach, and a serving of milk set to expire shortly. Perfect.
Still, life is messy. When plans inevitably blow up, we relish putting the world back in order. This is relatively easy to do. Neely and I communicate well and have very similar expectations. In our simple life, detours usually don’t take us far from the original path. But that’s not how life really works. Read history and you’ll quickly realize that life is chaos. Droughts, disease, war, recessions, revolutions, inventions, and more constantly interrupt expectations and re-shuffle the landscape. We must grow or die. In fact, adaptability is the chief characteristic of the human success story. As Charles Darwin explained, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives. It is not the strongest… but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
Last November Neely and I began the process of adopting a child. A new adventure created new plans: “If we were to be matched and bring home our baby in October, I’d be able to take maternity leave through the rest of the first semester.” As it turns out, we were matched in June and in the second week of July found out that the baby was to be induced on July 20th in Florida. We immediately began planning. Due to adoption law, we expected to be in Florida at least 3 weeks. I prepared coaches to lead summer workouts without me and read a baby book. Neely packed and prepared all the baby stuff, found suitable housing arrangements, finalized the nursery, organized multiple dog-sitting contingencies dependent on how long we were gone, created a month’s worth of sub-plans for her class, and handled a billion other affairs, which upon reflection, highlight how embarrassingly small my contribution has been. Oh, and I put the car seat in the car. But let's not get bogged down keeping score.
The drive to Florida was split over two easy days. In a world with podcasts and audible, traveling has never been more enjoyable. As planned, the days prior to the induction were spent in St. Petersburg with my Aunt, Uncle, and their four boys. In college, I lived with them and worked construction for my Uncle during every break. We are all very close and this time was a gift. That Wednesday we met the birth mother and her family for a wonderful lunch and left full of excitement. We anxiously awaited Friday when the baby would be induced, thus initiating the adoption plan. Friday came and we packed up to head towards the hospital. However, during a lunch stop on our way, Neely got a call telling her the plan had changed. Our birth mother had decided to parent. There was nothing left to do but enjoy one last evening with family and then drive home.
Plans change and the only constructive approach is to move forward. This isn’t about denying feelings but responding in a way that promotes the best possible future. While far from the desired outcome, the birth mother had every right to parent. The reality is that all will end well for Neely and me. Our timeline has just been pushed back. Passing blame or obsessing on circumstance is always a futile effort. Compare the 21st-century American life to that of 99.9% of human history and you quickly realize we’ve all hit the lottery. None of us are entitled to anything.
“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent- no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” - Seneca
Each event holds the opportunity for growth and transformation into a better version of ourselves far more capable and impactful than we’d have ever been if life went according to our narrow plans. The chaos is far more interesting and far more integral to our development. This has always been the case. Without my years struggling through OCD, I would never have become as passionate about human development. I’d be less as a husband, friend, father, and citizen. I’d never have elected the experience, but it may be the most important period of my life.
Amor Fati. This Latin proverb- meaning “love of one’s own fate”- is perhaps the most essential orientation for fulfilled living. It is not an excuse to accept things as they are without doing your best, nor is it resigning oneself to “deal” with whatever comes. Rather, Amor Fati means to love events exactly as they unfold- to take in life’s feedback and adapt, grateful for the new possibilities, understandings, and growth each circumstance presents. While I can imagine situations where Amor Fati is impossible, I haven’t yet experienced them. For most people, Amor Fati holds the secret to life.
As the old adage goes, the failure to plan is planning to fail. There is nothing wrong with an inclination to plan. The problem is believing problems shouldn’t arise. Plans must change. When I began making online courses, I was very excited to offer a membership structure. The plan was to continually produce the courses I thought most necessary for human development and thriving in the modern world. Members would pay a small monthly fee that enabled unlimited access to my constant creations. I did my research on the best course hosting platforms, purchased an annual subscription for $1000 and went into overdrive building the courses I’d been outlining for years. When my first six were ready for release I narrowed in on how I’d manage payment processing for these memberships. To my horror, the platform I’d paid for didn’t allow packaging of multiple courses. I’d assumed it would because it had an option for monthly payment. However, monthly payment plans could only be set up for each individual course.
I wish I could say I took this roadblock and adjusted intelligently. But, no. My second faulty assumption was that it was too late to get a refund on such a large purchase. Enter the sunk cost fallacy. I’d worked so hard to release the courses and couldn’t wait another moment. The only solution, as I saw it, was to abandon the membership concept and sell each course individually. This was a tough pill. I’d imagined creating a community of like-minded people committed to questioning norms in the pursuit of meaningful living. It felt like I was deconstructing the whole and selling off parts. Yet, I convinced myself that I was adapting and I had to go in this new direction.
It was my Uncle who finally set me straight convincing me that just because the money I’d invested was gone didn’t mean I had to change my whole approach. There were platforms that would allow my original vision to flourish. Sometimes you make a mistake, but that’s only a lesson. A $1000 education is very cheap. Recommitted to my original membership plan, I found the right platform and went about transferring my courses into its framework. Upon completion, I contacted the old platform to cancel and was amazed to find that they’d give me a full refund because I asked within the first month of purchase. Another lesson: if you need something, ask.
“Observation and Perception are two different things; the observing eye is stronger, the perceiving eye is weaker.” - Miyamoto Musashi
Over and over I’ve found that the right path does not automatically present itself. It won’t strike you like a lightning bolt and it is never a steady stream of progress. Life is messy and often requires us to undo our past work. You can perceive it as wasted time, or beautiful growth. We only find the right way by a constant cycle of action, feedback, and adaptation. Embrace the chaos and observe the opportunities and advantages it presents. Neely and I never expected to drive home without our first child. Yet, I’m amazed by her strength and I’ve never loved her more. I’m grateful to have this time with her and am certain that when we finally have our baby, we’ll be thrilled that life happened exactly as it did. Amor Fati.