Planning to be Flexible

Last week my family and I went on a lovely trip to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  How did it go?  Wonderfully!!!  Much of the reason it went so well was that I was able to balance “planning ahead” with “remaining flexible”.

The Old Me knew that no one can predict the future and knowing that “the best laid plans often go awry”, I’d resist making ANY plans until the last minute.  This was good because I’d never get locked into something that I couldn’t undo — no lost deposits for me!  But the downside was that I would often get “locked out” of things because I hadn’t made reservations early enough.

I once served on a Regional Board with a woman who was on the other side of this spectrum:  she wanted to plan everything as precisely as possible and as early as possible.  We were both motivated by our fears:  she was afraid that she wouldn’t be in control of her circumstances, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to changes in my circumstances.  Because we had to work together to make plans, I helped her relax and wait a few months before making plans, and she was able to encourage me to MAKE plans at all!  Together we learned to find that blessed balance.

Working with a life coach last year, I learned a lot about myself and WHY I had this “planning phobia” (my desire to remain forever flexible) and she taught me that not all decisions are final–preliminary decisions are helpful, too.

As I planned my vacation trip, I broke it down into smaller decisions, figured out the general timeline of when I’d need to make those decisions, and ASKED FOR HELP in making those decisions.

  • Where do we want to go?  This was easy–my daughter had asked that we take a family trip to Yellowstone to celebrate her 30th Birthday.  She actually made this request more than a year ago, but we weren’t able to do it then and had to postpone to this year.
  • When are we going to go?  This required a few conversations with my daughter, my son, my husband, and myself, to compare calendars.  There really was only one week that would work, so this decision was easy.
  • Where are we going to stay?  This one was harder and I didn’t want to try to discuss it with text messages and voicemail, so I asked my son and daughter and their families over for the afternoon to talk about it and make reservations.  We decided what kind of accommodations, the general area, and the days.  My son-in-law found some options and I made the choice, putting down deposits.
  • What are we going to do there?  I was able to wait till about a month before the trip for this one, but I needed help, so I again called for a party at my house!  We talked about what each of us wanted to be sure to do on the trip and we made reservations for three activities.  Because we would have a toddler in tow, we knew we’d have to have at least one adult stay behind for each activity.

For some of you these might have been no-brainers, but for a girl like me who likes to wing-it, it was very helpful to have made these rudimentary plans.  Then with these dates, accommodations, and activities planned, we could be flexible and spontaneous around them.  Turned out great.

Here’s the big question for me as I learn to do more planning ahead:  in hindsight, would I have liked to change these plans?  YES!  Within a week of putting down the non-refundable deposit, we were invited to a family wedding during that week!  It was hard to say “No, thanks” to the wedding, but we did.  Also, my son and his wife made the hard decision to stay home; my plans were flexible enough to handle that.

The takeaway?  I disciplined myself to make partial and imperfect plans ahead of time and was flexible during the trip and it was WONDERFUL!


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