You may recognize that title as a quote from the movie Fight Club. As movies go, Fight Club is perhaps over-quoted, but there’s a reason for that: people quote things that make sense. In that movie, the character played by Edward Norton learns exactly how fickle the world can be, and how useless it is to try to control everything. Once he lets go, he finally starts to find his way.
I was reminded of this recently when a friend saw me on Skype and opened a new conversation by saying “Dude, really how do you plan on doing stuff without a plan in Poland? If feel lost outside my house without a plan!”
You see, I’ve recently had an opportunity come up to travel to Poland. So I’m going! And I’m going without a plan. I’ll arrive in Krakow in two weeks, and I’ll depart from Krakow two weeks later, but I have absolutely no idea what will happen between those two dates. And that’s what makes it fun!
Now, if you were paying attention to my friend’s question, you’ll notice a subconscious revelation there: even in acknowledging that there’s no plan, he still asked how I will plan. See, this is a world-view that can’t function without the illusion of control. But you can be sure that control is an illusion.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. — Helen Keller
If there is one thing you can count on, it is the fact that plans fail. Just ask someone in Japan what he or she had planned for yesterday.
You think you’re going to read a book and become fluent. You’re wrong. You’re planning to study every day for one hour. You won’t. You actually think you have the power to control your life. You don’t.
Whether your goal is to learn a language, or to run a marathon, or to visit every single point of interest in the country to which you are travelling, the world doesn’t care. Tsunamis will happen.
You’ve had an outdoor wedding planned for months, and suddenly, it rains. You planned to visit every country in the world, and suddenly revolution broke out in Libya and Egypt, the last two places on your list. You spent hundreds of hours building your World of Warcraft character, only to watch him die.
The world happens around you, and it doesn’t care about your plans. If you want to succeed, then, you have to be flexible enough to accomplish your goals regardless of what life throws at you. In fact, when you plan too much, one tiny bump in the road will destroy all of your plans.
A flight is delayed. So you miss a connecting flight. So you end up stuck in Münich overnight. So now you have to get a hotel unexpectedly, and spend all night making calls to reschedule hotels and car rentals and whatever else.
When you obstinately stick to some rigid plan, you miss out on all the other opportunities that present themselves. But once you stop trying to control everything, you often find that what life throws at you is way more interesting than what you had planned. When your delayed flight leaves you in Münich overnight, you get to see the city and meet interesting people or do fun things, rather than spend all night on the phone, stressed about your ruined plans.
This year I set out to learn Turkish. And before this year is done, I will learn Turkish. But along the way, opportunities come up. I had an opportunity to learn an incredible amount of Polish in an unreasonably short time. And that coincided with an opportunity to visit Poland — a country that wouldn’t really have been on my radar any time soon. I could turn away these fantastic opportunities, of course, and just stick to the plan, but think of what I’d miss!
So what about you? Are you timeboxing yourself into a corner? Are you dragging the family all over the theme park with a map and a schedule, rather than enjoying your trip? Are you spending all night on a phone in a hotel, missing out on a fabulous city? Are you throwing your hands in the air and giving up when your plans don’t work out?
Or worse, are you paralyzed by the thought of having no plan? Is the idea of deviation from a schedule preventing you from enjoying all those little surprises life offers? Are you trying to control everything? Are you more comfortable with the thought of missing an opportunity than you are with doing something unplanned?