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The Road Not Traveled: Planning Is Dreaming Preparing Is Work

By Theresa Thayer

Let me tell you about my magical vacation. Thirty days in Great Britain.

Fly into London, take a train to York. Stay a few days, catch the sights of York. Take a train to Edinburgh. Catch the highlights of Edinburgh. Take a train to Glasgow. Meet up with a tour and spend twelve days touring Scotland the Highlands, Loch Ness and magical places like the Isle of Skye. When the tour ends, bid farewell to Scotland and board a train south to Wales. Join my personal guide to quickly catch the most obvious of wonders in Wales. After four days, take a train east to London. In London, see everything from Benjamin Franklin ?s home to the London Zoo. Shop in Harrods and visit the House of Commons during the Prime Minister ?s Question Time when members of the opposition get to challenge the Prime Minister, as only British members of the opposition can! After eight days, take a limo to Heathrow and fly home, relishing every memory.

Are you envious? Well don ?t be.

Six days before I was to leave, I had to cancel the whole dream vacation. And it was no one ?s fault but mine. I was slapped in the face with the giant life lesson I ?ve been skittering around my whole life I love to plan and hate to prepare. And planning and preparing are not the same thing. Planning is dreaming. Preparing is work. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that the work part would happen without too much input from me. Work was something to be postponed, avoided, glossed over. Anything but actively done. Don ?t get me wrong. I ?ve always had a job to support myself and you don ?t have to wear a HAZMAT suit to sit on my sofa. But I am never prepared for your visit. I am not prepared to gussy up for a night out, because my gussy up clothes are waiting to go to the dry cleaners from the last time. If I ?m going to cook, it ?s two trips to the market for the basics and a couple more for the exotic.

So to prepare for my vacation, I talked about beginning regular exercise. And talked. And planned. And planned. I never did begin. I kept saying I needed to. I kept writing walk each dog ? on my daily planner, but I didn ?t. There was lots of time, so I didn ?t need to do it now. As for the money needed to have a comfortable trip, I had it all of it for the first six months of my planning. I just didn ?t set it aside. I knew my income would continue growing and there would be money to have the kind of adventure I had planned. But I did not work each day to assure that growth. So there I was, six days before my departure overweight, out of shape, and without enough money to go to Bakersfield, let alone England.

If you have read this far and think I need professional help, you are absolutely correct. I have had professional help I ?ve had a therapist, a therapy group, a book, a book group. I ?ve organized from the inside out and from the outside in. I ?ve purchased planners, both paper and cyber. I ?ve chanted and written affirmations. I ?ve prayed and visualized. And I never got it until the day I had to swallow my pride and tell everyone I was not going to Great Britain. On that day, through a torrent of tears, I saw it so clearly planning is not preparing. All the organizing books and the planners did not get me to walk off the weight, put aside the money for vacation, and always have clean linen for guests. As long as the goal seems distant, there is always time to do it later, put it off, do something more important and there is always something more important tugging at our time.

Someone once said that our bookshelves reflect the person we want to be. For me, the way I plan is who I like to think I am. The way I prepare is who I really am.

It doesn ?t seem like this should be such a struggle. I ?m not sure why I must put myself on a very short leash. Since I ?ve been thinking about this, I realize my preparation skills have gotten in the way, held me back and generally not served me well. And the bottom line is it doesn ?t matter why and it doesn ?t matter what happened in the past. It ?s the present moment that counts. And I mean that. Exactly. The present moment counts and that ?s what preparation is using each present moment. The wedding day will come after a definite number of present moments. The vacation day will arrive after a specific number of present moments. A child will be waiting to put on her one-of-a-kind-Mom-original Halloween costume after an exact number of present moments have passed.

I know people who would not understand any of this. They plan, they prepare easily no doubt unconsciously. But they are not me. Possibly they are not you either. Somehow there is a disconnect between the goal over there and the actions over here.

Big goals are not the only problem. Little close up goals rush towards us also. When you look at the clock, feel rushed and mutter, Where did the morning go? ? When you have a birthday and wonder, Where did the year go? ? When you feel you could get more done in a day if there was only more day, you are not recognizing the present moment. So, how do we tweak our perception to be aware of the present moment? This is what I ?ve decided will work for me. It might help you also.

  1. Quote Oprah. Quoting Oprah is always a great place to start. In this case, use this quote Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. ?
  2. Quote Goethe. Even better than quoting Oprah, Nothing is worth more than this day. ?
  3. Set a goal or use one you already have. It doesn ?t matter. If the goal is close, calculate how many minutes until the event. Write that down on your calendar, your organizer, whatever you use to plan. For example, having a dinner party on Saturday night? Today is Monday, calculate the minutes from now until your first guest arrives. On the calendar space for tomorrow at this time, write the number of minutes until the big event. Do this for every day until your party. Look at that often. Note how many minutes you had yesterday, two days ago, today.
    If the goal is over a month away, count down each day on your calendar and write it down. Look at it often. Day #1 should be the day before the big event.
  4. Now overlay this count down information on your plan in a way that makes it obvious to you. Each time you work on the plan, you will be aware that preparation also needs to take place. Write down what you did. If you made a list, check it off.
  5. As you go through your day, check in with yourself frequently, Is what I ?m doing in this present moment taking me closer to my goal? ? Is it taking me closer to any goal I have? ?

    If you can ?t say yes then stop it and think of the present moment. Move into something that supports one of your goals.

    Is this tedious? Possibly. But not focusing on preparation hasn ?t worked out so well. I am ready to make a 180 degree change in my behavior. I expect a 180 degree change in results.

  6. Make it a very big deal when you accomplish a preparing task. It is a very big deal.

Is this obsessive? I don ?t know. I haven ?t done it yet. I plan on spending the rest of my life saying, Look what I did! ? instead of Oh, well, I really didn ?t want to do that anyway ? or even worse, This will have to do. ?

It ?s plain this isn ?t a fancy plan, but it ?s a good plan. I will be aware that present moments are on the move. And I will never be taken by surprise again.

Oh, by the way, I ?m planning another trip. I ?ve reserved my place. I will be in tip top shape physically and financially. I ?m going to Scotland in 218 days.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • CamBendy May 7, 2007, 12:00 am

    Another great article that I missed on the old site. Is Theresa a regular columnist, too?

  • Alison Moore Smith May 7, 2007, 12:04 am

    I wish. She wrote a special column for us last September. I think she was inspired to write it just for me. :/

  • Rachel May 7, 2007, 8:52 am

    I can definitely identify with this article. Too many times spent rushing to prepare an entire party the night before, or sending dh to the store for a Halloween costume at midnight when the original plan flopped . . . . And the funny thing is, I’ve come to the same realization as Theresa, and made myself the same plan. Last night, I was preparing the games and prizes of the baby shower I’m throwing on Saturday. Tomorrow, I’ll make the tags for the favors. And next week I’ll be making the invitations to my son’s fourth birthday. Sometimes it feels incredibly tedious and restricting to always have something to work on, but mostly it makes me feel more free; it sure feels better to be prepared for something than have a nervous breakdown the day before (or the day of) the event.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 7, 2007, 9:39 am

    So, Rachel, I guess you’re saying that I should start working on my daughter’s Shakespeare costume already? The final performance isn’t clear until Friday, you know. ;/

  • zmg May 7, 2007, 11:41 am

    That was an awesome article and one that hits home for me.

  • Rachel May 7, 2007, 1:15 pm

    Alison, I don’t know how adept you are at sewing (if, in fact you are sewing the costume), but if it were me, I’d be doomed by this point! However, I’m sure it will get done in time. These things tend to work out, right? Good luck 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith May 7, 2007, 1:17 pm

    I’m not very good at sewing. But I did just buy a great sewing machine last month and the costume consists only of a skirt and an overskirt. I think I can handle it, but I should have started a few weeks ago…

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