Jim Bishop | Make a New Plan, Stan, and Set Yourself Free

Nothing ever comes out as planned.

That’s a variation on Murphy’s (in)famous law, “Anything that can go wrong, will.”

Amen to that, sir. Not only that, but Murphy was an optimist. Which begs the question, is it possible for an optimist to be pleasantly surprised?

But I digress already – we semi-senile seniors are allowed that luxury – from my primary intent here, which is, to ponder one of humankind’s recurring basic questions: why do my carefully-laid plans frequently start out well but then go awry?

Maybe the answer lies within the theory that the best laid plans of mice and men . . . are usually about equal, he said with a cheesy smile.

This suggests that plans I make are many times subject to situations and circumstances that I have little control over – the weather, unexpected disruptions and others’ plans that conflict with mine, for example.

Sometimes, it involves making plans and then acting without sufficient information in hand.

Which reminds me of another variation on Murphy’s Law: Never let the facts get in the way of a carefully thought out bad decision.

Then, when things don’t work out, I find myself plotting how creative can I be in trying to explain away, cover up or simply refute what I set out to accomplish. Another way of saying this is to borrow a frequent quote from Homer J. Simpson, “It was like that when I got there.”

Here’s a recent example of careful planning not going as planned (er, how’s that again?): Knowing that wife Anna and I had several too full weeks and even more ridiculously busy weekends coming up in a row, we planned a getaway weekend to Virginia Beach, Oct. 16-18, and looked forward to the great escape.

That was before our gorgeous fall weather decided to dissipate, replaced by rain and chilly temperatures, not exactly ideal for heading to the coast. We canceled our beachfront motel reservations with a tinge of disappointment. However, by staying home we wound up having some quality time with our grandkids, savored a few serendipitous moments and even achieved the nearly impossible plan of rounding up 12 people at once for a family photo. None of this would have happened had we stayed with our original plans to get outa town.

Permit me another illustration of what I thought was some creative planning not quite going according to plan.

I contacted fellow/sister columnist Luanne Austin and suggested a little experiment that she agreed to. I called it “dueling columnists.” One of us would devise an opening paragraph on a theme or topic of choice, send it to the other who would come up with the second paragraph, fire it back and see where the neologistic path would lead.

I invited Luanne to go first, but she insisted I do the honors, out of respect to her elder. I fired my opening salvo: The great girl group, the Shirelles, warbled, “Mama said there’d be days like this” – in 1961, to be exact – and they were right on key.

Luanne shot back: Oh Mama! How I scoffed at your torrid hot flashes, the sweat dampening your blouse. How I disdained your grief at the new wrinkles appearing around your eyes. How I ignored your dismay when you could no longer fit into your favorite slacks.

I responded, Luanne sent a rejoinder, and on the electronic dialog went.

Then, I didn’t hear from Luanne for awhile. I started worrying that we’d encounter deadline problems if this verbal joust didn’t pick up speed.

She eventually got back to me and said she was “stumped,” uncertain where this was going. Could we call a halt and regroup, try again later, she asked.

I concurred. This seemed an idea whose time had not yet come, but we’ve agreed not to wave the proverbial white flag but rather to take a rest and then start afresh. Perhaps this time we’ll agree on a general theme and style approach at the outset, then let ‘er rip and see what happens. It’s a bit of risk-taking, but I think we’re up for it.

Face it: my plans don’t always follow a neat outline or achieve desired outcomes. The important thing is not to allow myself to get discouraged or give up easily and feel like a failure. Disappointment and frustration aren’t necessarily bad. What if we succeeded at everything we attempted? Whenever possible, I need to ask what has been learned from this experience, then return with fresh resolve and try again.

At least, that’s my game plan.


– Column by Jim Bishop



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