Planning in Pencil
Before my husband and I bought our first house, we were clueless. True “property virgins” as HGTV would say. Throughout our twenties, we relished the transient lifestyle of renters. Unhappy after a year? Up we went, and into something better. We were perpetual tenants with real commitment issues.
But something happened the moment a ring was slipped on my finger and a wedding was no longer a concept, but an eminent request. We started getting the urge to settle down, settle in, and discontinue the annual gypsy haul of our 30+ years of possessions.
To be safe, we started small. Accustomed to living in 800-1,300-square-foot-space, we bought a tiny bungalow complete with wood floors, cove ceilings and a host of other features that boast the kind of Pinteresty charm that sends any cool, collective woman into full-blown heat. Panting and drooling aside, when I saw my house (kind of like when I saw my husband), I knew it was “the one.”
As a writer and strategic planner, mapping out potential scenarios was routine. I took pride and refuge in knowing that risks could be mitigated and controlled with proper foresight. (I am a very thorough person.) Before John-Hancocking the dotted line of our starter home, I was careful to ensure we’d done all we could to set ourselves up for success. We exhaustively researched the area, reviewed year-over-year home costs, had a detailed inspection, and discussed our 1-5 year plans for every room. Not surprisingly, everything checked out – perfectly. This was where we’d put on the training wheels – this was where we’d start our family – this was where we’d... get the hazing of our lives.
Issues big, and bigger, seemed to spontaneously combust in a collective “Blah-haha-HA!” the moment we moved in. I had no idea how this could happen – after all, I had planned God Dammit. This sort of thing was supposed to happen to other people – careless people – not me.
With all the issues came a swirling carousel of contractors, each ready to resolve our domestic issues. So, once again, planning ensued – this time to prevent the leak of our funds from turning into a gushing hydrant. But as each contractor came and went, a strange pattern developed. “Unforeseen issues” and “extra, costs” were phrases frequently muttered. Could they smell the first-time homeowner naivety wafting from our pores? Or, were there really that many unforeseen issues driving up the costs? It was like a game of whack-a-mole – without the sweet release that comes from catching that little turd, and getting to bash his head in – but I digress…
Looking back, it would have been easy to throw our hands up and prescribe to the old adage of, “The best laid plans always fail.” As a strategic planner by both profession and nature, I really could have gotten down on myself and doubted my talents. But the situation actually had a surprising adverse affect: It made me stronger in my belief that the best-laid plans actually succeed; that is, if you reassess what it means to “plan,” altogether.
The word, “plan,” comes from the French word of the same spelling. It means, “plane surface.” The word was first used in the 1670s as a technical term for “perspective drawing” – or, “the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their…position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.” In other words, a "plan" back then was simply the art of an educated guess that could change as quickly as a step to the right.
What I know now is that even the “best laid plans,” by definition, are not impenetrable documents, inked in permanent marker; they are pencil drawings that leave room for the unknown. As mere perspectives, they are moving targets dependent upon where you’re standing, and, what you’ve brought to the viewing party. They are perfectly, joyously, and above all, subjectively elastic – challenging the planner to adjust with them, and to them, as they stretch to meet external conditions – conditions that might very well come from a greater plan, by a far greater planner.
My husband and I eventually did adjust to the wonder of our own situation (although at times it felt more like "blunder"). We got through all the rennovations – even those within ourselves – and you know what? We have a whole new plan in place, now; that is, until something else comes along.