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Daily Leadership Thought #162 – When Things Don’t Go As Planned

June 27, 2011

Free Focused colleagues brainstorming in boardroom Stock Photo

It’s a simple fact that not everything will go as planned.  Sometimes you get thrown a curve ball or two.

There is a famous saying that goes, “Man plans, God laughs.” It is sometimes sad and frustrating but true. While I’m a staunch supporter of goal setting and planning, I also realize that things seldom work out exactly as expected. In fact, it is often the unplanned episodes in our lives that end up defining our character. No one can think through every scenario and contingency. Life (and certainly business) just doesn’t work out that way.  Sometimes you can end up going in a completely different direction. It may be the pivot in strategy that ends up landing you in a better place.

All the above being said, however, life is also not a matter of pure chance; it’s a balancing act. I often tell my clients that you need to aim for the “bull’s eye” but be happy to just win the game. No one throws darts perfectly every time. The same thing happens in golf and countless other sports. One day you feel you can do nothing wrong and then the next day you simply muddle through and make the best of some bad chances.  The important thing is to be flexible, creative, and resilient.

All sorts of things will happen in our lives. Loved ones will pass away unexpectedly; businesses will fail; marriages will end; our health will inevitably have some complications; friendships will fade; etc. This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to make solid business decisions; work on building healthy relationships; and/or focus on our own health and well-being. It just means that even the best plans and intentions will get sidetracked in some way,

What defines a life is how we deal with the unexpected. Adversity and challenge will appear and confront us all, sometimes when we LEAST expect it. We will feel that we did everything right and still things didn’t work out as planned. What then?  Bad things do happen to good people. How will this define you?  Will you stay true to yourself and your objectives?

I don’t claim to subscribe to any particular “Zen” philosophy, but I do admire the view that life sometimes does just happen.  We need to somehow disconnect ourselves emotionally from the unanticipated outcomes and be present in the experience. Questions like, “what am I supposed to learn from this?” or “how did I contribute to the situation?” can be helpful. It’s also important to have a foundation of underlying values and beliefs guiding your actions and reflection.

So, live your life proactively. Do your best to think through and reflect on your life and what you want to make happen. Set measurable goals with specific timelines. Develop action plans and “to do” lists, but don’t expect perfection or unmitigated success. More than likely, things won’t go perfectly as planned.  Instead think of these activities as more of a guidepost or general sense of direction. When you get off track, try and understand why and make midcourse changes if needed.  Be open to these new experiences and see them as learning opportunities. The path may need to change (whether you want it to or not). Don’t get worked out by what you can’t control but take hold of what you can.  It will all work out in the end (one way or another).  We just don’t always know what “work out” ends up meaning and that is okay.

Your “North Star” still exists and can still be navigated. After all America was discovered by people trying to a find a different route to India and Asia. You never know what you will find along the way. It could be even better than you originally planned.