Having a Plan… or Not

One of the interesting things about growing older is the changing opinions I have. I’ve written in the past on goal setting, goal achieving and various other flavors of being oriented toward planning and organizing. And I think those are good things, don’t get me wrong.

Goals are fine and dandy. I feel like I’ve had overarching goals for my life ever since I was around 13 or 14 years of age. Those goals has changed as I’ve grown and achieved things, but looking back I can clearly see them now. When I was in my early to mid-teens, I felt a pull on my life to enter into full-time Christian ministry as a vocation. After that plan fell through for me in college and I dropped out, I had a new plan: get out of debt and find a way to become a “grown up”. I did that for a few years until I joined the Army in a fit of patriotism right after 9/11. Once I’d made that decision, I had a new goal: just make it through my time in the service with my sanity and health intact. After leaving the military, I got a civilian job and worked for quite a few years at trying to secure an expat assignment with a multinational corporation.

Some of these goals I’ve achieved and some of them I haven’t, or the focus has changed as I’ve pursued them and I eventually determined that they weren’t the proper goals for me to attain. And all of this is hindsight, of course: at the time, I didn’t always specifically understand what goal I was working toward (although sometimes I did). And I’ll fully admit that I’ve had my fair share and more of good fortune that has gotten me to where I am in spite of some of the decisions I’ve made.

The old adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail” can certainly hold true; I wouldn’t advocate not having any goals at all, anytime, ever. Goals provide security and focus, and they eliminate aimlessness, so they’re very beneficial for a lot of folks in a lot of circumstances.

But I’m coming to a point in my life where I’m finding it harder and harder to get worked up about setting goals and planning everything out. By definition (or at least the definition I hold to), goals require a person to strive toward a certain predetermined outcome. This outcome will come at the expense of other potential outcomes, since that person is making decisions that exclude other choices to further the one choice they’ve settled on. I’m not as much of a fan of this process as I used to be.

I’ve always been very confident in my direction (even if that direction wasn’t the best one) because it helps me to feel better about myself. As much as I’ve come to think of myself as a non-competitive person, I believe there’s still a bit of “achiever” in my personality. Things that provide status provide self-worth to me, and I don’t like that. That’s not the example I want to set for the world, and especially for my son.

Additionally, I’ve become less and less enamored with my own decision-making abilities, as well as my ability to foresee what the best choice for me and mine would be. I’ve made a bunch bad decisions that have required a Hail Mary dive and catch in the back of the end zone for them to work out okay in the end. I no longer assume that my decisions are going to be the best possible.

So I feel like it’s time to let go and become okay with uncertainty. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but I’m becoming more convinced that it’s true for me. Maybe it’s a classic mid-life crisis (although I hope I’m not quite to mid-life yet!), but I’m feeling the need for new experiences. I want to step out in faith and allow serendipity to play a part in determining what happens next. I’ve got some ideas about how I plan (<— there’s the word!) to accomplish that, but I’m not sure I’m totally ready to reveal them to the world.

I understand that, as much as I’d like to, I can’t experience multiple tangents of time. I can’t make a choice to both do and not do something, so I will necessarily not get to experience any more by not planning than I would have by planning. But I think it might be educational to make some choices on what seems right instead of what seems best, if that makes any sense.

One thing I do know (and that I’ve talked a bit about on this blog in the recent past) is that I’m interested in paring down my footprint, because releasing some of the “stuff” should allow me to be more sensitive to seeing and stepping out in faith on a journey that may present itself. My possessions have started to become overwhelming, at least to me. I know it’s not as much of an issue for the rest of my family, so there will have to be a give and take involved. But I’m very fortunate in the fact that my wife is understanding and (mostly) on the same page as me, so we’ll find a way to go more lightly in the world together.

A Price Worth Paying

When I was in 7th grade, I wrestled for my junior high. Darrell Sata and I wrestled every week in practice to see who would be on varsity and who would drop to JV. Sometimes I’d win, and sometimes he’d win.

There was a meet one time that I recall very vividly. I was wrestling JV this week since I had lost to Darrell in practice. Like I said, this wasn’t really anything new; we tended to trade off. However, for this match I had really cared more than normal about whether or not I wrestled varsity, because I knew my dad was going to be able to make it.

Dad couldn’t always come to all my matches, because he was a busy guy. I grew up with a single dad and he had to work pretty hard keeping food on the table. So it was pretty important to me when he could make it fit in his schedule to come to a match.

Anyway, I was pissed about having lost in practice because that meant I was going to have to wrestle JV when my dad was there. So, when I got on the mat that day, I was going to take out that anger on my opponent. I remember toeing the line and looking in the guy’s eyes. He must have seen something in mine, because he looked scared. That’s the first time anyone’s been scared of a 121 pound 7th grader.

The ref blew his whistle to begin the match. Normally, wrestlers would just kind of circle each other and wait for the other guy to make the first move. However, this time, as soon as the whistle blew, I shot in and tackled this unsuspecting kid and knocked him right on his back. I think he was so shocked that he kind of froze, because I wrapped him up in a cradle and pinned him in 9 seconds.

The reason I remember all of this is because of what my dad said to me after the match as we were going home. I distinctly remember him looking at me and saying, “Man, you sure were fun to watch”. My little 7th grade face split in two with the biggest grin you can imagine. My dad said I was fun to watch!

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I was thinking about this story yesterday. I’m not sure why, other than I was wondering how long it has been since someone truly admired me for something I had accomplished athletically. School and work have always come fairly easily to me, so I’ve never had to work that hard at it to obtain results that I could be proud of. But not so with sports. I’ve always wanted to be good at physical activities, but they’ve never come easily or naturally.

At the beginning of the summer, my wife and I set a goal to ride a century together by the end of the summer. We found what we thought would be an easy race for beginners and began training. We spent six days a week in the saddle for the whole summer, until my wife got in an accident a few weeks ago. She’s fine, but it took her out of commission. I knew I was going to have to continue to train and ride alone in the century.

By this time, our long rides on the weekend got up in the 50-60 mile range. It’d take three or four hours to complete these, and now I was going alone. That’s fine; I enjoy my alone time. But it really gave me time to think about what I was doing, and why. It would have been very easy to stop and just say that we’d try again next summer, but I couldn’t do that.

Then, two weeks ago I received an email from the race organizers saying that, for a number of reasons, the race had been cancelled and was going to be rescheduled for the spring. I was furious. After all the work I’d put in over the summer, to have the final goal taken away from me just a week before it was supposed to happen seemed very unfair. I could have stopped then, too. I mean, the race wasn’t happening. What else was there to do? But I couldn’t do that.

So, I planned a route around the area that I lived in that would have taken me 100 miles, and I set out to ride it on my own last weekend. It was the same day that the race would have happened anyway, so I figured I’d just do it on my own. I’ve never had a worse ride. So many mechanical problems! I actually ran out of inner tubes for my tires from changing so many flats, and had to bum one off a lady that saw me walking my bike down the side of the road. I ended up making it 60 miles in the amount of time I’d budgeted for the entire trip, and then got another flat. My wife came with my son and picked me up. I could have thrown in the towel then, but I just couldn’t do it.

Finally, yesterday morning at around 8:30 am, I set off on my bike again. I planned a different route; a 50 mile loop that I’d ride around twice to complete my 100 mile trip. That way, I could stop at the halfway point at home to refill up on water and snacks and fix any mechanical issues that may have arisen. But, other than a decent headwind that picked up at the beginning of my second trip around the loop, I had an amazing ride. Not one flat! Gorgeous weather the whole time.

The final approach on my loop is up a hill. It’s a 5th category climb for you cyclists out there. Not all that tough, but kinda challenging after you’ve come 99 miles already. As I swung on to that final hill, I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion. I got choked up and couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t THAT tired,was I? I had to think about it for a minute, but then I came to realize that this is one of the first goals that I’d set for myself in a long, long time that was HARD. I had to work for it.

Consequently, the achievement of that goal, small though it was in the grand scheme of things, was REALLY IMPORTANT to me. I had proven to myself that I can do what I set my mind to, even if I’ve gotta overcome some crappy circumstances to get there.

As I’ve said so many times before on this blog, I’ve begun to do what I do on a daily basis so that my son can have someone to be proud of. So that, when he’s a little bit older and understands how the world works, he gets a sense of what it means to accept responsibility and do what’s right, rather than what’s easy. Doing something like this was really hard for me, and yet I still did it. I want him to have that kind of example as he grows up.

So, I composed myself and finished the ride. I had my head down the whole way up the hill, just pounding out a decent rhythm to get up and get done. So, when I looked up to turn the corner into my subdivision and go home, I was shocked to see my wife and son there, cheering for me (I’m getting choked up again, dangit!). They had ridden their bikes out to go the last little bit with me. My son was jumping up and down, waving and yelling, “Did you win, Dad? Did you win?”. It was all I could do to answer “Yes” without crying like a baby.