There is a world of difference between those who are good at something and those who are masterful.
I am a planner. I love it. For me, planning is like mental masturbation. I do it in the shower. I do it while driving. I do it while you’re talking to me, if it takes you longer than I’d like for you to get to your point.
Planning makes me feel safe.
In the absence of a plan, time stretches out before me, shapeless and terrifying. There are just so many things that could happen out there in that wild terrain. An infinite number of possibilities. It boggles the mind.
In response, I plan.
I am the Queen’s Gambet of planning.
“First, I will do this; then she will do this, then me, then him. But if she does that, then I will have to do this. It will be hard, but I can do it! On and on it goes.”
As my mind races, my body tightens. My breath creeps up into the upper region of my chest. The muscles of my face and forehead pull tight. My lower back starts to ache.
I become a sword. Or a ruler. Or a pencil.
I am armed against the uncertainty.
Straight and tight, the day begins. Or the meeting. Or the presentation.
In that I’m already clear about how it will all unfold, having thought through one or two variations, I can just plow ahead, but as I do so, I seek out confirmation for my expectations.
“I knew it!” the planner in me celebrates over and over again, filtering out data points that don’t align with my plan. I’m not really seeing, or breathing or living for that matter.
I’m gathering corroborating data.
85% of the time, when I live out my day according to my plans, I kick ass.
After all, I’m sharp and prepared. I am a master project manager, me and my PhD in planning.
If I were the type of person who was satisfied by a “B,” I’d be golden.
But, I’m not the type of person who is satisfied by a “B.”
True excellence is found in the domain beyond my plans.
Excellence arises at the intersection of my skills and gifts, and the present moment. When I am centered in a place of mastery, I am beyond the domain of all of my planning.
To be excellent, I must be the ballerina who has danced everyday since she was three, excellent training, perfecting technique. But, at the moment that I walk onto the stage, if I want to embody grace, I have to forget all of that. Plie reps are not beautiful. Dance is beautiful, because it’s supple and free. The ballerina is beautiful only when she softens, leans into her years of training, and then lets herself dance.
The move from apprentice to master, from minion to boss, happens in the moment of softening.
You have to work like mad to get there, train and prepare, but then, you have to let all of that go.
Mastery in any area is an art.
It is fed by creativity and by a radical responsiveness to the here and now. I am not great if I am not watching and listening, open to the myriad unexpected sparks that arise in any given moment.
When I’m filtering inputs so that life conforms to my plans, I’m siphoning out opportunity and connection.
The unknown is where all of the good stuff lies, scary though it might be.
What is a planner to do?
The good news is that being supple is far more comfortable than being obsessive, rigid or controlling. It feels better, muscular-skeletal system on up.
Pencils and swords are only useful if they’re wielded by masters. Be the master.
I love planning. It’s an ingredient in my success. For that reason, I budget time every morning to make a plan and every evening to access the successes and setbacks of the day. But, aside from those designated times, I work on being supple. My intention is to be alive, open and vital in every moment. I trust myself, my training and skills, and I remember that the best opportunities arrive as unexpected surprises. If I’m filtering them out, I become a prisoner of my plans.
To be free, I have to live, bold and brave. Rooted in the present moment, I can see the gifts in my staff or hear the pain-point of a potential client.
I am creative and soft; I don’t feel like a sword or a pencil. I feel like a human being.
We humans could never have invented language or algebra, underground subways or running water were it not for our ability to plan. But, our greatness, whether in the boardroom or the lunch room, lies in our vitality and our humanity. By dropping the fear of the unknown, trusting our skills and opening to the infinite possibilities of the present moment, we become masters.
No one says it better than Plato, in his first principles:
“There’s no chance of their having a conscious glimpse of the truth as long as they refuse to disturb the things they take for granted and remain incapable of explaining them. For if your starting-point is unknown, and your end-point and intermediate stages are woven together out of unknown material, there may be coherence, but knowledge is completely out of the question.”
- Plato, The Republic