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Managing Monday: Planning Versus Preparing

October 8, 2012

It is no secret around the courthouse in which I work that I eat, breathe and sleep sports.  Most of my conversations with judges and other attorneys center largely around sports and the writing I do for RulingSports.com and Forbes.com.  This morning while discussing the ESPN 30 for 30 film, “Broke,” and athletes who squander fortunes, a judge said to me, “You know what they say, Alicia, ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.'”

And with those words, I knew I found the topic for this week’s Managing Monday.

I’ve been a planner my entire life, so much so, that I wouldn’t be shocked if I came out of the womb with some sort of scheduling device.  As a child, I dutifully planned my future.  I knew which clubs and organizations I needed to participate in to increase my admissions chances at select colleges.  I knew what classes I needed to take to qualify for scholarships.  In undergrad, I knew what leadership positions I had to hold to secure my chances at law school admission.  In law school, I knew what grades I needed to get my first year to ensure law review membership.

Ultimately, I have engaged in planning excessively throughout my life.  I have planned so much, that I am no stranger to hearing things like, “Take it easy” or “Just go with the flow” from friends and family members.  I believe that my planning nature is largely responsible for many of the places I’ve found myself.

However, there is a point in life where planning becomes dangerous.  Planning becomes dangerous when you hinge your self-worth or happiness upon the outcome of a certain plan.  Thus, I argue that preparation in most cases is more important than planning.

What is the difference between planning and preparing?  Planning is narrowing your focus upon one targeted goal and determining the course you must follow to reach that goal.  Preparing is completing the tasks necessary to travel the course to that goal while remaining open to a variety of outcomes that may arise due to your hard work and efforts.

There have been various detours thrown into my life plan.  My college plans drastically changed when my grandmother who practically raised me was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease my freshman year of high school.  However, because I was prepared, I was still able to attend a first-class university, albeit 30 minutes away from home instead of on the east coast.  My post-law school career plans greatly changed when the United States economy collapsed seven months before I graduated.  However, because I was prepared, I still found employment, albeit not in the area of law in which I planned on practicing.

Preparation allows you to secure the best life for yourself when your plans don’t go as planned.  If you are completely prepared for your plans to come to fruition, you are also completely prepared should they fail.  What I mean by this, is that we cannot control the outcome of many of our plans.  This is because, most of the time the outcome of our plans hinges upon someone else’s decision–whether it be a school you want to get into, a job you want to have or a man you want to marry.  Thus, the best you can do many times, is ensure that you are completely prepared for the plan to come to fruition.  If it does, wonderful–you are ready to succeed.  If it doesn’t, you are also ready to succeed, albeit at something other than your original plan.

One of the people whose life I admire the most is the late John Wooden.  Wooden lived a life filled with integrity, in which he offered simple guidance to others to make theirs better.  One of my favorite Wooden quotes is the following, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

What do you do to become the best that you are capable of becoming?  You do this through engaging in focused preparation.  Do we only become our best when our plans go exactly as we had mapped them out?  I would argue no.  We only become our best when we give our all to completing the preparation and traveling the journey necessary to someday, hopefully achieve the plan.

It was the late French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery who said that plans are necessary for a goal to be anything but a wish.  While he was clearly onto something, I think in this day and age, perhaps an asterisk is needed at the end of his quip.  If it were me, I would say, “‘A goal without a plan is just a wish, and without preparation and flexibility, you will get nowhere.”

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