Plans and Self-Actualization

This last in this series of “things I know for sure” is that no person can become what they want to be without a written plan.

Most days, someone speaks to me about wanting to change their lives, personal and/or professional.  In all cases, my first question is “do you have a written plan”.  Here’s a sampling of common responses and what I say, in turn.

  • It’s up here in my head. I’ve been thinking about it for years.
    • Until you write it down, it’s just thoughts
  • How can I plan when I have no idea what’s going to happen?
    • A plan that changes is better than accepting change as your plan
  • I’m not a good writer or planner
    • Good, let’s start with a really lousy one then improve it over time
  • How do I get started?
    • Just write some words about what you don’t like about your present life. Then write what your dream life would be.  I have samples that I and others have written.

Starting in my mid-twenties, I spent about ten years in the advertising agency business.  One of the main jobs of an account guy was to oversee the planning cycle which took up the fourth quarter of each year.

We’d start by getting as much financial information from the client as they were able to provide. What worked?  What did not?  With that information at hand, we would begin to design how we might do better the following year.

In my mid-40s I joined a peer group of business owners (Vistage) and that led me to adding a personal life plan to my business planning cycle.  Last month when I presented to my partners my 2018 review and 2019 plan, I realized it’s my 20th anniversary of writing life plans.

Self-actualization is the main reason I plan.  I don’t want to get that inevitable diagnosis that I’ll be moving on from this mortal coil wondering what my life would have been if I’d have done more…tried more…been more.  I’ve failed at many of the things I’ve planned to do but having tried, I will never wonder if I “could” have done them.

Before starting my own business, I interviewed successful entrepreneurs to learn what to expect.  In one interview, Dave Wilson, a Florida ad agency owner, said to me “Don’t die not knowing”.

I asked him to say more and he stated, “you are in your mid-thirties and if you fail you will recover…but if you keep taking jobs you may wonder on your death bed ‘could I have been an entrepreneur?’”

It was a great reminder that the consequences of failure are rarely fatal.  And that without a plan, failure is almost guaranteed.

If you’re thinking it…write it down.

If you don’t know what’s going to happen…remember no one does.

If you’re lousy at planning…start with a lousy plan and show it to someone.

If you don’t have time…make time.

This is not a dress rehearsal where once we get our lines down, the play will start.

This IS the show.


Tim McCarthy

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