Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Planning Pitfall

“The best-laid plans of mice and men are oft to go astray” ~ Robbie Burns
Burns seems to be saying “No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it.” Yet in most situations, we ignore this sage advice and expect that ‘if we plan it, it will happen’. We imagine that there are no variables, external influences or unexpected providence that makes our certain expectation fallible.
My contention isn’t that we shouldn’t embrace expectations but rather that we should explore options that are as yet unimagined. Certainty creates a space where willful blindness rears its head and closes off alternatives. This leaves us ill-prepared and even surprised when something doesn’t turn out as we anticipated. When the unexpected leads to frustration, certainty is trying to bully us into mediocrity. If we lean into uncertainty, the unexpected nurtures curiosity and creativity.

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How do we get off the train? Just when we think that there is a breakthrough, we usually are chasing a desired outcome. Brainstorming quickly becomes stormtrooping. Once a destination is laid in, our planning GPS kicks in and we begin exploring the fastest, shortest, cheapest, most convenient route to victory. What if a few detours or roadblocks changed the route? What if the destination is not quite right?

Leaning into uncertainty isn’t easy or organic. Nothing really is. It requires a disposition to curiosity and a tenaciousness to breaking form. An intentional tendency to ask ridiculously difficult questions in order to understand is an asset worth pursuing and an optimistic wisdom to know when to stop asking will keep some semblance of planning alive for those who struggle with ambiguity.

To begin, it may be helpful to ask 4 whys. When you are feeling sure of the destination or next step, ask why. Why do we believe that growth is the most important metric? – however you answer that question, ask why again, 3 more times. What do you notice? Has there been an orientation shift? Are you still charging ahead? Was there an unexpected lesson? None of these observations are negative, they just are.

After trying 4 whys, move to the next step. If you get to a stage where you are blinded by certainty again, try 4 hows, or 4 whos …

Curiosity begets curiosity. Lean into uncertainty and see what you see.


Original Thought · Self Improvement

A Simple Answer?

The simple answer to every question is ” there is no simple answer”. Well that may be too simplistic, there probably are simple answers but they may not be complete, appropriate or valid. If the question is closed-ended and ‘yes or no’ is sufficient, it still isn’t really an answer. Closed responses are only closed because of the framing of the question. If I am asked ” Are you going to type a post today?” The answer to the specific request may be “yes” but the answer I should give might be ” Yes, if I get this project complete and go for a run before 7am”. Even then the answer is shorthand for a much longer and more comprehensive response. ” I am feeling a bit of stress with some projects and procrastination, I need to clear my head and heart before I tackle anything else. I am not sure I have anything left to say or if anyone is really listening”

Do we lose content and context when we accept simple answers? Would our lives be richer if we shared deeper emotions and honesty? The most common question we ask and hear is one that we very seldom answer truthfully. ” How are you?” gets a variety of “good”,”fine”, “I’m well”, ” busy”, “tired” …but is the question or response just a courtesy mantra? Are you sincere in understanding the state of wellbeing, health, finances, relationships of the person in front of you? Should we swear off the question “how are you?” if we really aren’t interested. And if I am interested, can I ask a deeper, better, more complex, open-ended question?

What if I said ” what is the best thing that has happened to you in the last 24 hours?” or ” how is your health?” or ” why did you decide to come to this event?” or ” how did you celebrate the weekend?”. The answers would be more interesting and reflective and after the strange look it would foster a higher level engagement. Are we ready to engage with some colleagues, family members, strangers or do we want to just pass though the space and go through the actions? Even the last question could have a ‘yes or no’ response but if we opt for deeper connections then we need to build in patience and time so that meaning and meaningfulness can rise up in stages.
The first time you hear an unexpected deep question, it might rattle you for a second. You probably won’t jump to transparency initially because the unusual provokes suspicion but trust is waiting in the query and if you can choose trust, a better, truer response will eventually come out.

Are you constructing your own barriers to meaningful conversations? Do you frame your bids with honest curiousity or are they tempered with cynicism, suspicion and reserved detachment? What are you hiding from? Are you fearful that some disclosure will be abused? Is it shame? distain? anxiety?
Are aware of the tendencies towards open or closed? Has this just become ‘your way of doing things’? Are you interested in change and willing to be involved in the lives of a chosen few ?

I confess that this lesson has been difficult to learn well. I have stumbled and fallen. I have disregarded my personal commitment to engagement when I felt anxious. I have resisted overtures and bids with flippant sarcasm and been dismissive of friends who frightened me with their openness. But I continue to try. I make progress and step back but the movement over the past year has generally been forward, towards stronger friendships, deeper relationships and interest in the feelings and interests of others (even when I don’t understand). Like most things, there isn’t a simple answer, or a single step but I am committed to making the most of the gifts of relationship that I have. It probably means that contrary to the social media frenzy of accumulation, I need to be discerning and dedicated to a few rather than the very many.

Make Today Remarkable, by asking difficult questions,