My mom sent me an email today asking if I’d like to join her for dinner. She’ll be in NYC and thought it would be nice to get together. The invitation is for July 23rd.
Today is the 15th of April. Oh, the frustration.
Not only do I not know what I’m doing nearly four months from now, I have no idea what I’ll be doing this afternoon. So how can I plan ahead? How can I even think of guessing what mood I’ll be in; what outside forces will alter my course; which series of events will jettison my best laid plans of mice and men, steering me inexorably toward people, places and things I cannot even imagine at this moment?
The answer is: I can’t. And neither can you.
I know this now because I’ve simply had too much experience making plans that were destined to implode like a dying star, sucked into the black hole of my Google Calendar, never to be seen or heard from again. And the bigger the plans, the more spectacular their demise. Dinner is one thing. Trying to plan a career is impossible.
Here are 2 perfect examples of why I plan nothing:
1. The Modern Business Plan
I’ve come to the conclusion that business plans are for business school. It’s a good exercise to get your head around all of the things that go into starting and sustaining a business. But, for the modern entrepreneur, it has no basis in reality. Because the second you start a business, everything changes.
For instance, when Rain really began to grow, my partners and I sat down to plan the next stage of our operation. We used financial models to predict cash flow and sales. We looked at our customers to see what kinds of people were buying Rain Computers. We examined technology to see where it was, and where it was heading. We spent a lot of time making plans for the future, but basing them on the current environment.
The problem is, if you believe as I do, that context is everything, you might wonder what good it does to make a plan for tomorrow based on the context of today. Because, in order for that plan to be worth the paper on which it’s written, tomorrow’s context must be a carbon copy of the one you’re currently experiencing. When does that ever happen? For me: rarely, if ever.
I find that, if I’m doing it right, if I’ve got my eyes and ears open, if I succeed in reminding myself that change is inherently good, each new day brings a wave of fascinating new experiences. And as that wave crashes on the shore and then recedes, as it inevitably will, what’s left on the sandy beach is context such that I had never before considered possible. New information and experiences that change the very meaning of all I had held as gospel only hours before.
So, here we are, my partners and I, congratulating ourselves on the glory of our achievement - our best-laid plans. And then the recession hits and everything changes. Those financial models are in tatters on the floor. Customers who bought Rain Computers today are doing so for a million different reasons than the day before. The evolution of technology is inexorably altered. And suddenly it becomes apparent that we weren’t the only ones to throw our brilliant schemes into the fireplace and start over. The whole world was with us.
2. The Career Path
I gave a talk yesterday at The High School of Art & Design in New York. It was, to say the least, an enlightening experience. The subject at hand was careers and I was there to tell the students what they might expect at the logical conclusion of their adventures in academia.
I feel honored to have been invited to impress upon these budding creative geniuses my experience and opinions, hoping to help them enjoy their upcoming careers as much as I enjoy mine. And so, to make sure I wasn’t in danger of spouting bullshit in exchange for their undivided attention, I really took a serious look back at my career thus far.
I’ll spare this blog post the long version of my career path. Suffice it to say, where I ended up is hell-and-gone from where I started. Having gone to school for music, giving 110% of my attention to my art day after day, I could never have guessed I’d be writing this from the seat I’m sitting in right now.
And that’s the point. Nothing bad happened. No horrible mistakes were made that kept me from making a living as a professional bass player for the rest of my days. But the context of my world, my life, and my interests were altered by the things I learned, the experiences I had and the choices I made.
What I told those incredible kids yesterday is this: Find something you love and do it every day. Devote every fiber of your being to it, right up until the time you stop loving it or you fall in love with something else. And if that day comes – if you’re absolutely sure it’s time for a change – find within yourself the courage to pursue a new dream despite the plans you might have made.
And, no matter what, never give up.