“The best laid plans (schemes) of mice and men often go awry.” ~Robert Burns
This quote that has stuck with me ever since I read the book, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck many years ago. The quote, credited to the 18th-century poet Robert Burns, was the inspiration for the title and theme of the book which really sums up a big fact of life. No matter how much you plan and how perfect you think your plan may be, things never go exactly according to plan. It is how you deal with those bumps in the road that shape the success that you will have. Whether it is rejection letters for graduate programs, not landing the “perfect job,” not being in the house or car you planned to be in by a certain age, not being at the point in a relationship or in one at all by now, not getting that promotion that you worked so hard far, or simply not even knowing exactly what you want to do in life yet, all of these things are just detours that can lead to much better outcomes if you make the most of the opportunities that arise from the unexpected. Some of the most life-changing moments and biggest accomplishments happen to people who are willing to be flexible and adapt to detours and obstacles throughout their journeys.
There has been an ongoing narrative that in order to be successful you have to put on your blinders and follow a specific path. While focus is important, being so focused on your plan that you are missing other potential open doors and windows can be the root of delayed success. Or in other words, you could be blocking your own blessings! So it is time to start changing the narrative that to be successful you have to do everything as planned.
Success does not follow a strict path, but is the unscripted culmination of how we deal with the highs and lows of our unique daily journeys.
Here a few tips that I use to keep myself flexible to change while still staying focused on my goals:
1. Create a Checklist
Create a checklist and not a road map. There is nothing wrong with planning and being organized so that you stay aware of your goals. Instead of writing out a step-by-step guide though, try making a checklist of the major checkpoints towards your goals.
2. Schedule a Check-In
Set aside time monthly or quarterly to go over what you accomplished since the last check-in. Re-evaluate if your goals are still the same and see if there need to be adjustments based on life events that happened along the way.
3. Hit a Checkdown
In American football, “checkdown” is a phrase that refers to a Quarterback completing a short, easy pass to a receiver after seeing that all of the other options are covered. He has “checked down” the list of receivers and has made an adjustment based on how he read the play happening in front of him. The same idea applies here. When plans change right in front of you, just read it, adjust, and make the best of the new situation while you get ready for the next play to happen.