Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Unplan

I read today on Skylark's blog about long term plans and how, inevitably, they change. He mentions how he read a post on a sailing forum by a sailor named Dave, (S/V Exit Only, which changed his perspective on long term plans. Dave's take was that plans change and long term plans are silly and not worth your time. Instead, Dave believes in "unplans", plans that refuse to look further than 6-12 months into the future.

I couldn't find the link to the original post but Skylark posted the text on his blog, Skylark: Sailing Adventures on a Cal 34, and I have reposted it here since it was that good.

Personally, I know my life has changed drastically in the past two years and deviated quite far from where I thought it was going to be by this point. My long term plans have changed to accommodate completely different goals at least 4 or 5 times since graduating college. I was going to be in law school, working on my PhD in psychology, getting my master's degree, an officer in the Coast Guard....etc. I've also noticed that when I have a strict plan, I tend to get stressed out when I'm unable to adhere to it, even though it doesn't impact anything all that much.

I guess that's why I like goals or plans without a timeline. They're something to work towards and give you motivation but don't put you in a box and restrict you from being distracted by life and living. I really try to live by unplans with goals in mind but its posts like the one below that remind why its such a good idea in the first place and how you really can't count on the future; you just have to enjoy today.

"You have long range plans with lots of assumptions about the future. 

My experience is that life is a non-linear experience, and assumptions about the future are not worth very much.

Long range plans to me only have meaning for six months to twelve months in the future, and even then things can change radically.

I wrote a page on one of my websites called "The Man With The Unplan".

THE MAN WITH THE UNPLAN*** I am the man with the unplan

I am the man with the unplan. What is the unplan? The unplan is simple: my long range plans are firmly set in jello, and are therefore subject to revision, reversal, and massive change. Although I know who I am and where I am going, I don't have any long term plans set in concrete.

My life is full of maybes, perhaps, and possibilities, but real long range plans are clearly out of the question. Three of my colleagues who had long term plans are no longer alive, and the handwriting is on the wall and in clear focus. The message says, "Today is the only day I have, and I need to make it count for something good."

I used to be a man with a plan, When I was halfway through college, I made a plan to go to medical school, and I did it right on schedule. But after that, the unplan took over. When I was an intern, I planned to become a pathologist, but instead, I became an eye surgeon. I planned to practice general ophthalmology, and instead became a retina and vitreous surgeon. I made a plan to work overseas in Saudi Arabia for five years, and instead stayed for eleven years before I set sail on the ocean of my dreams. I planned to spend two years sailing around the world on my yacht, and it took eleven more years to complete my circumnavigation.

Life has been full of twists, turns, and reverses, and it's easy to see why I am the man with the unplan. I didn't realize I was the man with the unplan until I had a car accident in New Zealand. When I rolled the van I was driving, I broke two legs, five ribs, one scapula, and I punctured one lung. I spent nine days in the intensive care unit, had three operations, and received seven units of blood - all of this was quite unplanned. I stayed in the hospital for two months and gradually regained my ability to walk. It took six months to be able to bend my right knee ninety degrees, and that made it difficult to climb on and off my yacht.

While I was hobbling around on crutches in Whangerei, New Zealand, I passed a real estate office that had an advertisement in the window for waterfront property - one kilometer of ocean frontage. At the bottom of the advertisement were the words, "For long term plans." I looked at those words and burst out laughing. Those words - long term plans - were massively presumptuous in the world in which I lived. In my world, I didn't know if I would ever walk normally again. Skipping and running were out of the question. First, I had to progress from hobbling to limping. Even my trip around the world on my sailboat was up in the air; I didn't know when or if it would ever continue.

I realized then and there that I was the man with the unplan. Although I had a general direction to my life, and I had a list of things a mile long I wanted to do, I no longer had solid plans or even a schedule. My life was full of possibilities, but long term plans were a thing of the past. When you are fifty old, and you don't know how much time you have left, you leave the long term plans to young whippersnappers who feel like they are immortal.

Since that time, I have been living more in the moment. I have a general direction to my unplanned existence. I planed to sail across the Atlantic Ocean sometime in November, December, or January, conditions permitting. I will probably cruise in the Caribbean from January to June, and then I will arrive back in the USA in June, July, or August. That's my unplan.

The truth is, I was never very good at squeezing my life into any type of mold, and plans are sometimes the most restrictive molds of all . Anyway, the majority of my plans have turned out different, maybe even better, than I had hoped. So I have decided to stick with my unplan and see what happens. One thing you know for certain, we will be surprised when we see how it all turns out.

By the way, God, if you happen to be listening, I would appreciate it if you would extend my unwitting and unplanned existence for another forty or fifty years, because there is so much to do and so little time, and I want to make the next fifty years into a real adventure. I promise I will do better this time. Amen."

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