‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’ is a line from John Lennon’s song, ‘Beautiful Boy’.
The key thought behind this often-quoted lyric is that life just happens. It is serendipitous. It happens best by chance. In effect Lennon was saying, real life cannot or should not follow a deliberate plan.
I want to counter this idea.
John Lennon wrote some of the most loved music of the 20th Century. Far be it from me to criticise his music. But I do question his philosophy of life as expressed in this lyric.
In truth, the prize of a great lifestyle most often goes to the one who plans. The one who has thought about it. The one who is organised. The most planned person usually wins. (e.g. submit your work holiday leave form 6 months in advance and you will almost always get the dates you want).
The person who ‘wings it’ in life, will make it so far, depending on their charisma and talent, or the people around them. The one who knows what they want, and then creates and implements a strategy to pursue what they want, will almost always achieve their goals.
Planning my personal life FEELS like work
I come up against Lennon’s mentality even with very intelligent and ambitious high achievers, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Creating and implementing plans is a normal part of their business life. However, they resist planning their personal lives. When challenged, they usually do not have a rational reason. It is as if one of the big differences between their ‘work’ and ‘private life’ is the lack of planning. They do not want their private life to feel like work. And if it requires a plan, it feels like work. To me, this approach is not just unhelpful, but lazy. It is not even true to what happens. Almost everything that is good that happens in life requires planning: a wedding, overseas trip, a new house, a landscaping project, the arrival of a baby, etc.
Possibly this resistance to life planning is left over from the days when men worked, and their wife stayed at home and looked after everything. Many men did not have to do much planning because their ‘little woman’ just made everything happen.
Or, is it simply that many of us have bought into John Lennon’s rather fatalistic viewpoint. Strangely, many high achievers, who are passionate about success and believe that their decisions and actions make a difference every day, have meekly accepted that life happens best unplanned.
Perhaps Lennon’s lyric applies to the following types of people:
- The thoughtlessly busy – you are probably disconnected from what is really going on around you in your life. The hamster wheel metaphor applies to you if you are going through the motions every day, working, eating, sleeping; just earning a living to pay the bills.
- The control freak – you try to micromanage every detail of your life, planning the functions of life meticulously but often miss the people and relationships that make up life.
- The dysfunctional – life has always been so full of drama that you do not know any other way. You feel cursed. You may not realise that all those other people you thought were just lucky have a different approach to life.
Progress requires focus and planning
If you create success in one part of your life (say business) but neglect other areas (such as marriage, parenting, health and fitness) then you will have a limited sense of fulfilment. Fulfilment is related to a sense of progress. In order to live the life you want, you will want to see progress across all areas of your life. It is possible. But it requires a deliberate plan.
To enjoy a good income in retirement requires a deliberate plan. What about planning the rest of your life as well? As my good friend Chris Freeman says, we need to make longer terms plans. He calls his coaching business ‘Design a Decade’. And loves to tell people that 65 is the wrong number. Due to increased life expectancy, we need to focus on what it takes to live to 100.
It is amazing what can be achieved in your life financially when you create and follow a plan for a decade. You can be debt free and well on the way to wealth.
The same principle applies across every area of your life. Life comprises 8 – 10 key areas. Business/Career, health & fitness, wealth creation, personal growth, life partner, family & friends, leisure & recreation, and home & yard. Some add a further 2: child(ren) and spiritual growth.
Goals help with focus
Successful people have usually learned how to set goals and achieve them each year. It is not simple. Success at goal setting requires a lot of self-understanding. It comes with a lot of trial and error over many years. If you know yourself well, and are willing to be honest, there is tremendous power in setting goals. The power comes with the plan you create to achieve the goal. A goal without a plan is a wish and unless you have a fairy godmother, wishes rarely become reality.
I help my clients to complete an honest self-assessment of their whole life each year. This is followed by working out what they really want for their life in each area. Then they set 1 or 2 significant goals for each area to help them focus. Once we have a desired goal, we make sure it is crystal clear how to measure that goal, so we know when it is achieved. E.g. to become fitter is not a goal; it is a desire. A goal will be measurable in a quantitative way e.g. to lose 5 Kgs by Christmas is a goal. We then create a deliberate plan to enable them to achieve that goal. E.g. to join a weight loss program, and to walk for one hour 5 days per week, cut carbs to 120-150gms daily, and increase protein intake to 100gms daily.
Goals are best set annually and plans are created and reviewed every 90 days (or quarterly).
Fulfilment is linked to a sense of progress across your whole life
You need to plan your life as well as your business – you need life plans as well as business plans. Fulfilment in life is often undermined by issues that stem from neglected areas of our personal lives. When you have a ‘whole of life’ approach, as discussed above, you will not neglect any area of your life that is important to you.
If there is a lot of chaos in your life, it may take some time to take back control. Perhaps a year or two. Do not underestimate what can happen within 6 months if you take the time to create and implement a deliberate plan.
When you start to see progress across your whole life, your level of fulfilment will increase as well. You will see progress. You will feel more in control. You will be building the life you want. What was not possible without a deliberate plan become possible for you and those you love.