Plans change. WTF?

The one thing you can be sure of about plans: Plans change.

Take this post, for instance. I planned to open with that famous quotation—you know—”The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

Except that’s not the quotation. The actual quotation, written in 18th century Scottish dialect by Robert Burns, is a bit more indecipherable:

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley…

And so my plan for an opening quotation ganged agley too. (Wikipedia offers a modern translation: “Go often askew,” which barely seems better.)

So we switch from old Robbie Burns to a more modern muse:

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

That inarguable wisdom comes from boxer Mike Tyson, who should know. So should the majority of his opponents.

I have never been punched in the mouth—or anywhere else, for that matter—and I’d like it to stay that way. But I have had plans change, in large ways and small.

First draft: the plan that (almost) always changes

I learned early on in my speechwriting career that changing plans went with the territory. The first time I sat in a top exec’s wood-paneled office, scribbling furiously on my legal pad as he held forth on “exactly what I want to say” in his next speaking engagement—that moment remains clearly etched in my memory.

I left the office, assembled the scribbles into a creditable speech, and returned a week later. He read it and bellowed:

“That’s not what I want to talk about.”

Now, I take meticulous notes—even with the ancient technology of paper and pencil. So I knew full well that was exactly what he’d said. But he was the one giving the speech, so he had every right to change his mind about the content.

I understood in that moment the full meaning of the phrase “first draft.” It means “Plans change.” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because if  speakers can change their minds—if the first draft just exists as a catalyst for their thoughts—then it can be a catalyst for mine, too. I can offer something creative, an odd perspective, a wacky idea. And if it gets thrown out, well, plans change.

Plans change and change again

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

That French saying—”the more things change, the more it’s the same thing”—has been around since the 19th century. The changes we’re experiencing right now may not seem like “the same thing,” but change happens whether we like it or not. And we need to deal with it.Plans change. We need to adapt with courage.

In my life, I’m not a huge fan of changed plans. But in my writing, I expect change; I even build it into my fee structure. How can I adopt the same equanimity outside the office?

I’m not saying we have to accept change we don’t like—especially not if that change threatens us. But I’d like to find a way to roll with the punches (again, not literally) because rolling with them leaves you better able to defend yourself against fresh assaults.

I want to adapt, not necessarily accept. Just as I don’t always accept the changed plans my clients unveil. “Nope, that’s not a good idea,” I’ll tell them—and explain why. They usually listen, too, because they value my opinion.

Whatever comes, I will—as my friend Samantha Bennett (no relation, sadly) says, “use my work as a force for good in the world.” And you can too.

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