Life Never Follows the Plan

I used to a rather obsessive person when it came to my planning.  I used to plan my vacations down to knowing every stop on the way like you buy gas in this town and have lunch at that town, if you need proof just talk to my wife. I think I used to drive her nuts about it when I was younger, but as I get older I’ve realized something important: life never follows the plan.

Never?!? Yes I mean never.  It may be close to the plan, but in the end I’ve never seen my plans fall out exactly as planned, so I’ve gotten significantly more relaxed around my planning now.  This isn’t to say that planning is useless, but rather I focus now more on outcomes rather than specifics.  For example, I’m more likely to say I would like to be financially independent in my early forties, I’m less picky if it turns out to be Freedom 45, 42 or another number.

This outcome based objectives makes life just much more enjoyable as you can adjust things along the way if you need and not get too hung up on the details.  For example, my goal is to pay off my mortgage this year and the projection for that to occurs is the end of October, but if something comes up and we push that back into November I won’t panic.   This get increasingly important for longer more complex goals like early retirement since any number of events can either help or delay your plans.

So while I enjoy knowing my progress on a project I’m getting better at taking these little or bigger changes in stride.  Life is too short to get upset about something going wrong as I’ve often found then down the road something else goes right and brings the long term projection back into line.  Perhaps the only real danger to being a little more loose on the planning side is you can miss little things that turn into big trends that can completely derail your objective.  Missing your saving target for a month isn’t a big deal, missing it every month for half a year could be a problem.

So how do you handle your planning?  Are you very specific about it or more objective based?  Why does your method work for you?

11 thoughts on “Life Never Follows the Plan”

  1. I always have the big picture that comes at the end of the road, such as lose 20 pounds by June or be financially independent by 40. The difference is I like making process type goals.

    Examples of these are, with relation to losing weight, instead of always concentrating on June, or having a set amount of weight to lose each week/month, I make goals like working out 20 times a month. With relation to financial independence, this can be like saying you will pay x amount to debt or the mortgage each year. This gives some leeway where you can pay the money when you have it and don’t need to worry about missing a month, you can work to make up for it.

    These types of goals reinforce that achievements are the results of behaviours repeated over and over again. Even if for a while I am not losing weight, I know that I am getting healthier and helping myself by working out as often as I do and the weight will come off with time. It is tough to see 20 years in the future to see if you are progressing much to financial independence, but if I know that I am behaving in ways that are beneficial to the goal then I can rest easy knowing I am on the right track.

  2. I would say life has followed my plan better than I planned it, especially with some big issues.

    I thought in the early 2000s I’d be able to retire by age 50 but when certain pieces fell into place more quickly, that became 45. I saw that coming in 2007 when I took a small chance by reducing my weekly work hours and made myself ineligible for my (former) company’s group health insurance (and this step, I was warned by my boss, was likely irreversible; that did not faze me). I was sure but not 100% sure that I’d be able to retire by the end of 2008. That occurred on schedule despite the financial meltdown (actually, that meltdown helped me out).

    Predicting in 2000 that I would switch from working full-tme to part-time in 2001 also came true. Being able to pay down and pay off my mortgage by the time I turned 35 occurred on or ahead of schedule, thanks in part to the booming stock market of the late 1990s.

  3. Interesting question. I have a provisional plan, yet I remain mindful of the possibility of change. But then the reality of change applies to the plan itself. I’m thinking of portfolios as an example. All these model portfolios you see on the internet look so neat and tidy. Due to changing plans over the years, mine now looks decidedly asymmetrical!

  4. So right. I’ve learned that flexibility is the key. Basic planning is good but sometimes the glitches in a plan turn out to be the best experiences. I used to think my life would follow along without much work. But marriage, kids, family, lay-offs, self-employment, etc, does better when you go with the flow. It makes for a less stressful life and since we never know what would have happened if we had stayed on the “planned” path, we can still appreciate and make the best of what we discovered along the way.

  5. Well, you are an engineer. Not following a project management focus would likely be crazy making for you.

    I try to plan in areas where it will make a difference and have no plan (just an objective) in areas where it doesn’t seem to matter. Like I don’t plan travel and trips much at all but I plan for (or commit to) outcomes and milestones at work and in savings / net worth objectives because it’s motivating.

    I like Eisenhower style planning:
    “I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”

  6. You’re so right. I’ve run into some roadblocks along the way that I never expected and am still trying to deal with. For vacations, I used to try to plan everything down to the smallest detail and then freak out when things weren’t perfect. I’ve tried to learn to plan enough that we know what we’re doing, but not so much I’ll fall to pieces if things go awry. 🙂

  7. I used to try and plan everything out just as you did, however over time I’ve come to realize that it is better to just set the objectives and let the actual steps take care of themselves. I feel that for short term things we can plan pretty well, but for longer term (over a year) things never work the way you plan them. Sure you might get to the same goal, but the path there is never how you envisioned it.

  8. I know aa couple whose only plan is to focus on the eventual death of the parents and just have money fall into their laps. They are upfront about it. That is their idea of retirement palnning.

Comments are closed.