Journal entry 071510: Making plans

This week I started a new phase of my life. I have been in the office of a Midland oil and gas consultant two hours a day re-learning an economics software I once used when working for one company or another (there have been too many to remember exactly). I’m exploring the possibility of doing some contract work for this group. It is a tentative move back into the workforce after six years of being self-employed.

I am actually looking forward to the change in schedule and change of pace, but it didn’t come to me easily since I love my own freedom and independence above anything a job can offer. Months ago, when I first started thinking I should make a change, I wasn’t happy about it. I prayed, “God change my heart about this and make me ready.” I’m more ready now that I was then.

I spent too much time fretting about my daily schedule and how will I get this all worked out so the company will be happy and I will be able to do the writing and studying that I want. But I eventually decided I shouldn’t worry about it so much in advance. I had to trust that I could work out the details as I went along.

That hasn’t been a natural approach for me for most of my life. I usually want to have all the details worked out before I start something, so that once I finally get started it will all click along like clockwork. I love it when the contingencies are covered and surprises are accounted for ahead of time like a caper from the Italian Job. It makes me happy and proud.

But that sort of thinking can also paralyze me. If I don’t start a project until I have all my details lined up, which may be never, I may never get started at all. It was that sort of thinking that kept me from going backpacking all those years. I finally made myself go to the mountains anyway, even though I was unprepared and went with marginally adequate gear. I had to push myself over the hump of preparation and finally make the trip. It’s true that I suffered from being wet most of the time and I was way too cold in my broken sleeping bag, but I survived and I learned how to prepare better for the next time. Now I am pretty good at it … but, I almost never got started because I was too worried about being ready.

I once heard David McCullough say in an interview why he likes to write turn-of-the-century books. He said he loves the feeling of discovery and possibility of the era. He quoted an engineer from the late 1890s who turned to his crew as they were about to fire up some new industrial-age contraption and said, “Let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.”

The engineer wasn’t being fatalistic or negative. Quite the opposite. He knew he could fix the problems once they were identified, but he also knew he couldn’t foresee the problems without starting the project first. I need more of that sort of thinking in my life. Start now, fix it later on-the-fly, stop using detailed planning as a stall tactic.

Yet I know this about myself: I am neither happy nor productive until I work out my schedule, until I develop a system. Only then can I live beyond the distraction of details and let my creative mind flow. I tend to value process over events, at least in my own personal life, and I am never settled in my soul until I have the process worked out.

Maybe I am like the Rich Young Ruler, trying too hard to get my life perfect while God is whispering, “I will take care of you, just follow me.”

The reason this discussion matters to me is NOT because planning ahead is wrong or because details are not important. There is no glory in living an improvisational life if the result is running out of gas in a church bus or suffering from blisters after a marathon. Having details work out according to plan is a good way to live.

The reason it is important is because my motivation for planning (or stalling) is too often about my fear of looking stupid. I would rather sit down and stay home than risk looking like a beginner. For me the part that demands the most courage is not the risk of the event but the risk of public failure. I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed because I was afraid to look silly.

Cyndi says we should all do something brave every day. For me that means living with a lighter touch, taking more chances on new ideas, being more improvisational. At least, that’s my plan.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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