Stop Planning

Please don't mistake the following ponderings for pessimism - they are not - but you can't go through a situation like this one honestly, with your head held high and your eyes wide open and not ask yourself questions like:

If my time is more limited than I once thought, if I don't have 70 years to plan for, what would I wish I had done more of? What would I wish I had done less of? What would I desperately want to be different?

I certainly don't have all of the answers to those questions, but I do have some ideas. 

Ask anyone close to me what the last couple of years have been like and they will tell you - hectic, crazy, non-stop, successful, impressive to some, busy, too busy. Ask me and I will tell you a slightly different story if I am willing to be transparent - they have been frantic, panicky, driven by a desperate fear of failure, life-sucking, unfulfilling, lacking in almost everything that gives life to me and makes me - well, me. 

I haven't felt like I could take an afternoon off. All I could see were a set of scales that never seemed to slide to the side of completion, success, accomplishment, and, therefore, the ability and mental freedom to rest. So, I really didn't rest. 

If you would have talked to me about it, I would have told you it was no big deal. It was temporary. I just needed to get my business up and running, just needed to pay off the debt, just needed to cover the cost of the kids' school and then I would have all the time I needed to do the other things. I had a plan. 

See, I'm a planner. God wired me like that from the beginning. But, somewhere along the way, I decided planning was my salvation - if I could just plan well enough, take into consideration all possible contingencies, look far enough into the future then life would be good. The problems with that approach are probably too many to list but they include that isn't actually my job, nor is it possible, which means I was destined to "fail" - the thing I feared the most - before I ever began. 

And, then, I found myself in this place. This place where, logically, I don't get to plan. Not for the next 70 years, not for the next 7 years, not for the next 7 months with certainty, and, to be fair, even planning the next 24 hours must come with the utmost flexibility because I could be too tired or suddenly feel ill or face a new, unexpected bend in the road. 

You know the craziest part? Anything different than that was only an illusion to begin with. I may be the one with the diagnosis, but you don't know if you will make it home tonight or contract some terminal illness before the end of the year, let alone what changes will occur between now and the next step of your plan. Control is an illusion - a security blanket, in fact probably my favorite security blanket, but one that offers absolutely no true safety. 

No fear, this is not an Ecclesiastical, all-in-life-is-vain-and-meaningless post. I don't believe that either.

We may not be able to plan confidently as if we are in control of our destiny, but we can certainly prioritize correctly. When we approach life from that perspective, then we have the right kind of structure in place to make the decisions that should be made when we are in a position to make them. 

Here are the things I know to be true, in spite of how little they may have impacted my, ahem, plans and behavior over the last few years:

  1. Some things that occur have eternal significance and some have temporary. Getting bent out of shape over inconvenient, temporary circumstances that could possibly have positive, eternal effects is a mistake I am trying really hard not to continue to make.
  2. People are more important than tasks. Although tasks are necessary to function, when given a choice I always want to choose the person over the activity. 
  3. Relationships take intentionality. They don't just happen, and they certainly don't flourish without work. When you say people are important but they routinely come behind your entire list of to-dos, those relationships will be affected by default. 
  4. You can push yourself as hard as you want - some of us are tough as nails and really good at this approach - but ultimately your body can not sustain a feverish level of activity for a prolonged period. It will eventually give me.  
  5. Our stress level, our choices in life, our emotional health -> ALL directly impact our physical being. When we allow these things to stay out of line with our correct priorities for a prolonged period, we beat down our own innate ability to fight off sickness, infection and disease [unfortunately, including cancer].
  6. Everything we do in life - each conversation, activity, thought process and emotion - takes a certain amount of energy from us and gives a certain amount back to us. Most of us don't pay attention to these transactions, let alone spend our energy wisely and prioritize our choices based on what kind of energy we receive from those things. 
  7. You can not continue to give what you have no way to replace. Doing a job, even one you're good at, that sucks the life out of you will ultimately leave you an empty shell if you don't figure out how to offset that. Pouring your life into others without doing the things that are necessary to take care of yourself or surrounding yourself with people who can pour back into you eventually means you have nothing left to give. 
  8. This moment in time will never happen again. My kids will only be this age once. I will never be this young again. Putting things off for the day you "arrive" at some arbitrary milestone may mean those things never happen. If I work so hard to provide for my boys that they rarely see me, it won't matter one day ten years from now that I may have all the time in the world for those same three children because they'll no longer be boys. They'll be young men - who, in all likelihood, will not have time to see me at that point.
  9. Certain things just aren't that important. This one is hard for me to even explain because as much as I know this to be a truth, I still FEEL like these things are important. But I told my husband the day I was diagnosed, "I'm not going to waste time worrying about debt at this point. I will either pay it off one day or I'll die and it won't matter." How many other things is this true of? And how many days do we let it steal our joy from that day when it really doesn't matter in the long run?
  10. Guilt and regret should be weighed for validity, used to motivate a change in behavior when necessary and then, left behind. Guilt and regret are valuable. They help us know when we have gone too far, hurt other people, need to change. But they can be misused to manipulate others. We need to know the difference. We need to alter course or learn to ignore accordingly. But, in the end in both circumstances, the guilt and regret should be left behind. We should only be left with the lessons we've learned and a better position to address the next situation that occurs.
Don't be confused - I was born a planner and I'm still a planner. I have a tentative plan for tomorrow, for this week, and for the next few months. That's about as far as I'm willing to go for now, and I hold those very loosely at this point. 

But I sure have changed my priorities in the last couple of months. They go remotely something like this . . . eternity, health, people, necessary tasks. 

Guess we'll see how those priorities drive my choices in the next days and weeks. Somehow I feel confident that it will be much better than the way my plans have gone over the last few years. 


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