Friday, January 27, 2012

Seeing Behind Your Own Reflection: Planning & Purpose

Could you move, please? Trying to take a picture here.

People ask how our sabbatical was. It was great, I say. Then they say with their eyes, Thank you, Anderson Cooper, for that invaluable piece of investigative journalism. Seems they're looking for something more. But it's a small talk question with no good small talk answer. So I'll try to be specific with some answers, starting with…what we learned about planning and purpose.

Diana and I were overworked before our sabbatical, so I hope I can be forgiven for fantasies of lazing in a hammock in Ecuador, sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas, whilst the kids were being enriched in school all day. But you can stare at your toes only so long. So I had a list of things I'd enrich myself with. Learn to play guitar. Learn to draw. Read War and Peace (or was it Crime and Punishment?). Stuff like that. But it turns out that a goal without a plan is like a husband with a remote control but no channel guide.

Some people are naturally single-minded, purposeful, and focused. Di and I are, shall we say, susceptible to distraction, so we particularly need to plan our goals, objectives, and strategies or we veer off in large-scale Brownian motion—frantically busy, yet accomplishing nothing.
So even though we did some planning, we were fortunate enough to learn through our sabbatical that our planning can stand some improvement.

First thing we learned was that some of our goals were so nondescript as to be faits accomplis. Learn Spanish. OK. "Una otra cerveza, por favor." Done. Next?

So some sort of qualification helps. What would you like to be able to do with the Spanish you speak? Clearly ordering another beer tops the list but hopefully doesn't end it as well. How about be able to have a cocktail conversation in Spanish or be able to talk with our children's teachers?

Then, though we had goals and general ideas of what we wanted out of our sabbatical, we rather expected that once life as we knew it was out of our way we'd be achieving all sorts of things. But once all those typical distractions (jobs, council meetings, committee meetings, managing rental properties, kids' activities, etc., etc.) were gone, we still didn't achieve what we thought we would.

Once having stripped away all the trappings of modern life, then, what could possibly be keeping us from achieving what we believed we could? It was a bit like trying to see behind your own reflection. When everything else was stripped away, it turned out, the only thing left to blame failure on was…us.


So, for example, any shortcoming in our Spanish-speaking abilities was clearly not because we had to work overtime or deal with frozen pipes. It was our failure to plan exactly how we would learn Spanish, and how much time we'd dedicate to it, and how we'd measure our progress.

But once we got over feeling crappy and stupid, and came to accept our responsibility to create more structure for ourselves, and forgave those damn people who are naturally driven and organized for making it look so easy, it was an empowering moment. It never, ever was all those distractions of life that we believed monopolized our time; it was always, and shall ever be, how we decided to react (or not) to those things. It's all much more in our control than we thought.

So, self-discovery accomplished. We just need to plan. Right. Now, uhh…exactly how do you make a plan?

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