My love of a plan became rather obvious about twenty years ago when my husband and I decided that we would have a holiday in New Zealand. Full of enthusiasm, I started obsessively researching New Zealand to within an inch of its life, coming up with ideas that would help us to fill in every minute of every day of our holiday. My husband, who isn’t a planner, looked on in what I now assess to be pure horror. Eventually, he calmly suggested the possibility of coming up with a list of days that could be planned and a list of days that were completely out of bounds for planning. This, I think, was pure genius. Twenty years later, the first step for every family holiday after choosing the destination is for us to agree on what is in and out of scope for planning.
In all honesty, I think that my obsessive planning was purely a mechanism for managing my opposition to uncertainty, which has long been a challenge for me. Over time, I have learnt to be (mostly) a little more accepting of uncertainty and (mostly) a little less obsessive about my planning. I still have my moments. Much to the relief and joy of my family, I can now see that “We will be in Fiji for 10 days” or “We will be in San Francisco on these seven days of our five-week holiday in USA” can be perfectly sufficient plans that, when lived from a mood of wonder, do not require any additional detail in order for fun to be had. That said, there are times when I still need a plan. For example, in my current way of being, I am fairly certain that I would not cope with “Let’s have a holiday where we pack, jump in the car, drive, and just see where we end up” and I am fairly certain that if someone even proposed that to my family, they would have a rather large belly laugh as they started to anticipate what my reaction might be.
Although I feel as though I can now observe and manage the obsessiveness around my planning, something that I sometimes still struggle with is what to do when the plan changes. This has come up for me during the past couple of weeks and I have been exploring it ever since, particularly with regard to my coaching business and also this blog.
When I first started to think about launching my coaching business, my plan felt quite simple:
- Launch my website
- Establish a base of coaching clients
- Blog regularly about leadership and become respected in this regard
- Develop leadership programs
- At a future point, develop some programs more aimed at helping individuals in areas such as self-confidence and self-doubt
In my mind, this plan honoured my commitment to contributing positively and constructively to the world of leadership, something that was incredibly important to me following what I assessed to be a particularly poor leadership experience. It also honoured my commitment to making coaching available to individuals who may not have otherwise thought of coaching as a possibility. Eventually, via some larger programs, it would take care of my concern around helping others who may be suffering from self-doubt or lack of confidence. My plan seemed quite straightforward and achievable, and I could feel myself becoming excited about it.
Somewhere in amongst all of this, by pure accident and with absolutely no prior planning,I started this journey blog.
It had never occurred to me to write a blog about my journey until a colleague suggested it when we were chatting one day. I loved the idea and, in a move that was very unlike me, I didn’t spend time worrying about whether I could write it, or planning how it was going to happen, or thinking about how it would fit in with my coaching goals. Instead, I read the book Julie and Julia, watched the movie with the same name, bought a domain name, asked my family whether I could head to a nearby café for a couple of hours with my laptop, and started blogging. So, when I say this blog wasn’t planned, it really wasn’t. And, because it wasn’t planned, there was no expectation that it would ever be part of my business or anything other than “that blog I write on the side about my journey because I feel more comfortable with that than writing a book”.
As much as I didn’t plan to write this journey blog, I also didn’t plan for the experience of writing the blog to be so fabulously healing and rewarding and wonderful and fulfilling. Although I wanted this blog to be written totally from my heart and soul in an attempt to help others who might also be suffering, I am certain that I assumed I could remain somewhat detached and treat it as a hobby while continuing to pursue my passion around writing leadership blog posts and developing leadership programs. So, even after I started this blog, I don’t think that I considered ever including it in my plan.
During the past couple of weeks, what I have realised is that I can’t treat this blog as an aside. For a start, I don’t want the people who follow it to simply be an aside; I want my followers to feel like respected, legitimate people. I want my blog to be one possibility for easing the suffering of others. There is also something else that is important to me. This blog has given me so much. The learning that has come from writing this blog has been almost as significant as the learning that came from my self-doubt journey. This blog can’t be “that thing I do on the side”. It means too much to me.
And that was about the point where I started to freak out, because I realised that my plan was changing.
At first, I tried to ignore that my focus was shifting from my business blog to my journey blog. If my focus was shifting, then my plan was changing, and I was not going to allow my plan to change. A plan is a plan, and I was going to make this business work.
However, the more that I opposed the obviously changing plan, the less progress I seemed to be making on anything. When I spent time on my journey blog, I felt as though I was abandoning my business website (which I have not touched since it went live). When I tried to write for my business blog, I felt as though I was abandoning my journey blog. Plus, I hadn’t even started writing the programs that I wanted to write. I have no idea how I am going to fit all of this in with a family and a full-time job. Who on earth was I trying to kid? Perhaps this just isn’t the path for me.
I could feel resignation setting in and I hold an assessment that resignation is quite an ugly mood on me. Curiosity and wonder are way more flattering; for me, at least. It was time to get curious. Deanne, why do you feel as though you can’t do both? What would be helpful to shift in order for both to become possible? If you really can’t see both being possible,what alternatives would you be willing to accept? Is it possible to combine both?
What eventually occurred to me was that I really was feeling as though my choice was to either abandon my original plan, or to abandon the unplanned blog that was giving me so much joy. The result was that I was experiencing a dilemma. When I asked myself why I felt this way, the assessment that I formed was that I was clinging to the original plan; I wasn’t giving myself permission to let go and accept other possibilities. There is so much in this whole process that is new and uncertain to me, and I realised that the plan was my little bit of certainty; I was opposing the potential change.
I arrived at the assessment that my plan was no longer serving me. I wanted a plan that would allow me to focus on my journey blog for now, while also combining this with the minimum required effort on my business blog. My existing plan did not give me permission to do this. It was time to be curious and find a new plan.
I have now decided to sit in wonder about where my coaching business will go. My journey blog is going to be my focus, because that is what I currently love. My intention is to still pay some attention to my business blog and I am currently working out what the minimum viable effort with that is likely to be. With regard to writing training programs, I have decided that I would like to turn my journey blog musings into some programs, and I am currently working out what they will look like. I will still write my leadership programs at some stage; it just won’t be right now. It will be when the time feels right.
I now have a new plan, and I give myself permission to live this new plan from a place of wonder, exploring it and checking that it is serving me as I go.
While I was experiencing the shift in focus with regard to my blog and my business, my interpretation is that I was assessing that there was some
uncertainty. I was then opposing the assessment of uncertainty, and this was leading to anxiety. What I tend to find is that when I sit in anxiety for a period of time, without really noticing it or taking action, I start to unwittingly slide into resignation. I think what happens is that my language shifts from “I can’t do this”, “I don’t think I can do this”, “What if I get it wrong?”, or whatever the case might be, to “What’s the point, I can’t do this anyway”, or “I always knew I would never get this done” or “I am not going to do it right, so I don’t even know why I am trying”. This, I think, was why I was starting to feel as though I was shifting to resignation when faced with the shift in focus around my blog and my business. Although I had noticed a link (for me) between anxiety and resignation before, I had never previously picked the language shift, so I am quite thrilled at this new learning. I will use this to explore my future bouts of resignation.
Resignation is a mood that shuts down possibilities, and I find it very hard to see new possibilities when I am in a mood that constantly shuts down the possibility of new possibilities. I really don’t like being in resignation, and I tend to panic a little if I notice it.
When I realised that I was opposing uncertainty, I then looked at what it would take to accept the uncertainty, because doing so leads to a mood of wonder (curiosity). I find wonder to be a beautiful mood, and I tend to use it whenever I may be feeling anxious about a situation. It also looked as though I was opposing possibility – the resignation was an indicator of this. Accepting possibility allowed me to move to more ambitious emotional spaces, such as enthusiasm and hope and drive.
This, I think, is a powerful reminder of how our language and our moods can combine to create a reality that may not be serving us. In everyday life, we are faced with situations where people may not be accepting of change, or may not be liking where a plan is going – at work, at home, at the shopping centre – it can happen in any situation. What if we stopped to ask ourselves what mood might be behind their reaction? For example, if a child is told at 9:45am that the family is now leaving the house at 10am and not 10:30am, and they react unfavourably to this, what moods and language could be behind that? Could it be that they are not accepting the uncertainty that they assess to be associated the plan changing? More traditional upbringings would perhaps have us assessing that the child is “naughty”. However, what if it really is that the mood that has been generated by the change in plan is just not serving them in that moment? And, if we are aware of that, what can we do to speak to their concerns around the change in plan?
Another point that came up strongly for me is that sometimes new possibilities arise. We may not even see them, because they are so removed from our plan and they have therefore not even made it to our thought processes. How can we be open to new possibilities? What can we say to ourselves about new possibilities? What moods will allow us to explore those new possibilities. What body posture will have us accepting these situations as possibilities?
Finally, it is amazing what learning the question “Do I genuinely give myself permission to do…” can bring. I remember when I was first asked this in a coaching conversation, my immediate thought was “Of course I do” and I thought the question was quite odd. However, I have come to learn that the question is quite useful and, if I answer very quickly with an “Of course I do”, I now know to ask myself again, because I probably wasn’t being honest with myself the first time.
Points to Ponder…
- Where might you be not allowing yourself to see possibility at the moment?
- What moods are are associated with this? How are these moods helping you?
- How do these moods feel in your body? Where does it feel as though they are sitting?
- What moods would be more helpful in allowing you to see possibility?
- How would the more helpful moods sit in your body?
- What are you not giving yourself permission to do?
Who am I?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me,please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.