Stop Letting Your Plans Hold You Back From Greater Things

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.

Into every life, a little Leeroy Jenkins will fall

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.

Bend like a reed in the wind

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?

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

Leave a comment:

Comment Policy: Comments and feedback are totes welcome but respect is mandatory. Disagree all you want but be nice. All comments and links are moderated.
  • Randy Yearlyglot

    One of my favorite trips was when the airline lost my luggage, never to be found, and I had to buy two weeks worth of clothing, underwear, socks and shoes and a new suitcase to bring it all back home. Really. I visited and learned about shops that I probably would not have visited otherwise.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    i have read it with pleasure!!!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Well, I think compromise and getting just the right mix of extremes is really the key in life. Plan, but be flexible, be very, very at improvising in the moment. Be fluid and move fast, but go to a reasonable length beforehand to plan and prepare.Cheers,

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I agree with my previous commenter, Andrew, that the middle path is best to go! It's good to plan, because without a plan you might miss a lot too! Let's say you go to Poland and you have no idea what to go and see. Your friend doesn't show up (because you didn't plan on where to meet and don't have his phone number), so you migt end up spending a lot of time in Poland trying to find an interesting place to see. Or maybe you decide just wait and see what happens. Sometimes that's good, but maybe nothing interesting will happen and you'll regret that you didn't plan a bit. I try to be as organized as possible, while at the same time to remain flexible to change plans accordingly. I wouldn't book all the hotels in advance either, but that's because I don't have a family yet.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    You don't think it's possible for me to simply *ask* someone what's there?Are you so helpless that without a plan you can't find the sights? That's sad.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I hate plans. They prevent you from experiencing much cooler stuff...

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Thank you!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Awesome. I must admit that I'm reaching a point of minimalism at which, if an airline lost my luggage, they would essentially be losing almost everything I own. However, I don't ever check bags, so I guess there's no chance of my things getting lost.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Not to sound cocky or anything, but as a single person traveling alone, something interesting is going to happen whether I plan for it or not. That's the nature of the beast. And sometimes you meet people that will suggest someting that you hadn't thought of.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Truly inspiring. Period.

  • Randy Yearlyglot


  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Or they allow you to do much cooler stuff. I think it cuts both ways. We plan way too much of our lives, which leads to a mundane existence - in general. But when I look at the people I admire, who have done amazing things and are making a difference in the world, I realize that they are fairly focused, driven people who are living the life that they planned - not the life that the world gives them. I guess I think a bit of planning allows more spontaneity to happen - if that makes sense. And with language learning, planning can be the difference between wandering out into the community and coming back frazzled and wandering out and coming back encouraged and ready for more. Not soup nazi preparation, but some.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I think having a plan sometimes can be so stressful! I tell myself I'm going to study X hours a week in Arabic, X hours of Spanish, write X number of posts for my blog... oh, and have a life too!! And then when I don't achieve what I set out at the start of the week because I want to catch up with friends or just take a break, I feel like I've failed my plan and that stresses me out!

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    If I leave Chicago in a car tonight, I could reach New Orleans before morning. The most I can plan — the absolute limit of the plan — can be expressed in one sentence: "I am going to take Interstate-55 to New Orleans."But as I drive all night, I can never see more than 200 feet in front of me. I see the bits of the road illuminated by the headlights. I have to adjust the car to every curve of the road. I have to pass slower cars, and allow myself to be passed by faster ones. I have to watch out for animals and for road hazards. When necessary, I have to exit for gas (perhaps a smaller plan, upon seeing the gauge is low) and find a gas station. I must do all of this while never seeing more than 200 feet in front of me.The "plan" must be expressed in one concise sentence. But the trip, can not be. You must respond to variables on the trip. And overplanning the trip will only lead to confusion, frustration, and disappointment.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Indeed. Plans are stressful.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    I totally get the comment, "The plan must be expressed in one concise sentence. But the trip, can not be." This makes total sense to me and I get it. But a bit of planning may enhance the trip. For example. If you are going to go to New Orleans this weekend. Planning to leave early in the day on Friday so that you are in the middle of nowhere when the moon comes out - the super moon that is closer to earth than it has been in 18 years - rather than close to all the light of Chicago, you might be able to pull over, spread out across the hood of your car and take in the wonder in a way you might not have been able to had you just left after work and still been in Chicago traffic when the moon came up. With just a little tiny bit of planning before hand, you may be able to take in things along the way that you would have missed. Not that you have to stick to the plan either. You can always take an unplanned detour to catch the surprises along the way.

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    Of course, the flip side of that is.... if you leave early on Friday, and hit a two-hour deadlock because of an accident during rush hour, you are stressed and feeling rushed because of your plan. And when the sum effects of that deadlock put you four hours behind your schedule, you're carrying the disappointment of a failed plan with you the whole way. :)

  • Randy Yearlyglot

    This weekend the snow has interfered with my plans and it made me realize how much of my self worth depends on feeling like I am accomplishing my goals. It is a recurring issue between my husband and myself and yesterday he really did not mince his words so i was forced to admit that my fear of dying (either physically or metaphorically i.e.EGO) is at the root of my need to control. What will be left of me if I stop fooling myself in believing I am keeping the world, my world spinning ? I am scared of what I will feel like ...empty ... serene peace ? I must be brave and trust. Unusual idea for me .

Want to learn a language in 12 months?

Language you're learning...