First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.

Those words were written by the American author Napoleon Hill. When I was 12 years old, my father put a paperback copy of Hill’s best-selling book, Think and Grow Rich, in my Christmas stocking. My copy of that book collected dust somewhere in the back of my bedroom closet for decades. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to digest the pages of Hill’s book that millions of people turn to for advice and inspiration.

When it comes to making plans, I think there are three types of people: The Planners, The Spontaneous Idealists, and The Adjusters. The Planners think through every detail; they set expectations; and they see their ideas from start to finish. The Spontaneous Idealists worry less about the details and just roll with an idea, wherever it takes them. They have zest for life and are open to new ideas. And then there are The Adjusters. These people often have a plan, but when things don’t go as planned, they make the necessary adjustments. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m 100% a planner! But as I’ve been detoured by my own plans in life, I’ve learned that being flexible and making adjustments makes for more well-rounded itinerary, an expanded imagination, and exciting experiences that I would not have known if I always followed my plan to a tee.

Along the way we all make plans that don’t work out: A relationship that doesn’t last as long as we hoped it would; a job that we thought we would have forever until someone in the hiring and firing department decides differently; thoughts of being invincible with our bodies and health as a young person, only to realize that wear and tear can catch up with us as we age; or dreams of having a large family, until one day you take a headcount and realize that it’s smaller than you envisioned 10 years ago. Maybe you even had big plans for traveling the world, but when you flip through your empty passport (if you have one) you realize that you haven’t traveled much further than your state’s capital.

Plans. We all have them. The question becomes, do we allow our plans to own us? Or can we make adjustments? And maybe even welcome a little bit of spontaneity along the way? 

The following story is a silly one; loaded with dreams and mistakes made by an inexperienced and young girl in her early 20s. She was a planner, and a dreamer, who made calculated adjustments. Her imagined stories didn’t always go as planned. But then again, they rarely do. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. 

It was the summer of 1993. She just graduated from high school and for the first time in three years, she was single. She had no major responsibilities except to arrive home at a reasonable hour in the evening. She saw this freedom as her free ticket to be irresponsibly responsible; for she was a rule follower and never got herself into trouble. Random nights of sipping on MGD Light as an 18-year-old was her idea of breaking the rules. One night that summer, she met a boy. His name was Matt. And after one night of flirting, she made a plan. She decided that Matt was going to be her new love. And even though they were going to separate colleges, they would be soul mates, she decided.

That summer, they did what many young loves do; camped out at the local beach, shared childhood stories well into the night, went to house parties in the neighborhood, and talked about excursions out of town that they wanted to take together. This was her reality in the summer of ’93. But her imagination had a different plan. Her plan was that she and Matt would travel to each other’s colleges over the next four years and happily date long distance. They would get together over holiday breaks in their neighboring suburbs. Over time, they would fall in love – the real kind of love, not just a summer crush. And they would forever be the perfect couple. That was her imaginary plan. Not his.

At the end of the summer, they said their goodbyes and drove in different directions to start the next phase of their life. But they promised to keep in touch often. Early into their first semester at their separate colleges, Matt found love with another. She wasn’t completely heartbroken upon hearing this news, just sad. Her plan was crushed. And she was slightly wounded from the rejection. Not one to be beaten, she came up with a new plan; a calculated adjustment. You see, Matt was a superior athlete. He received a swimming scholarship from his college for the sport in which he excelled. But in any sport, there’s always someone who is better. Someone you either envy or admire. Matt admired the skills of one of his greatest competitors, a swimmer named Jay. This Jay character was among the best; and Matt had a genuine “man crush” on him. And so, she decided, what better way to move on than with her summer love’s idol? She decided that she would meet Jay, win his affection, and date him instead. (I told you this story would be silly. But this isn’t the first time in history that this kind of concocted nonsense has occurred).

And so the hunt, ahem, I mean, the plan to meet Jay began. She started hanging out at the food hall where all of the swimmers dined between practices and classes; carefully scoping out which swimmer in the pack fit Jay’s description. She only knew three things about Jay: he was blond, reportedly cute, and a swimmer. After a couple weeks of checking out the swim team and discretely collecting information about Jay, she found her target. Meeting and dating Jay was her objective after all. She wasn’t exactly a sexy college freshman, but she had a girlish charm. And so, in her preppy attire and perfectly white smile, she flirted and made small talk conversation with Jay by the salad bar and frozen custard machine. She worked this angle for well over two months, but never found the courage to formally introduce herself. Yes, she had “a plan.” But it was not in her true nature to be calculating, and she never saw herself as particularly desirable to young men. As she inched closer to fulfilling her plan, her self-doubt started to creep in: What if this doesn’t work? What if I’m not his type? But with some encouragement from her friends who knew that she had her eyes on “swimmer Jay,” she decided that it was time to go after her new man!

It was a cold November day and Jay was outside of his usual dining hall. On this day, she happened to catch Jay unlocking his bike from the bike rack. She made sure to catch his attention and briefly chatted with him (while attempting to be charming). After their exchange, he hopped on his bike and was about to take off when she yelled out, “I’ll see you around Jay!” It was the first time she called him by name. He stopped. And then he flashed a big smile. His smile turned into a chuckle. And he replied, “You think I’m Jay???” Her eyes widened and she embarrassingly asked, “Who are you?” He replied with a laugh, “I’m Brian.” And with that, the boy she thought was Jay rode away. It was a three month plan made after her summer romance plan failed. And with the correction of one name, her revenge plan was squashed. All that she could think to herself was, “That’s what I get for calculating a pay-back plan!”

She had a plan that summer. It didn’t work out. She adjusted, and made a new plan; albeit a calculated plan. And she imagined how it would play out. She was derailed. Her plan didn’t end up the way she thought it would. She was me. And I learned my lesson on that cold winter’s day from some guy named Brian who I never saw again.

We make plans in life. They don’t always turn out the way we envision them. But the detours we take often give us a good story to tell among friends over a glass of wine, or in a blog about life’s journeys and lessons. There’s nothing wrong with a good plan (when it’s coming from a good place). But the journey is always better when you’re open to making adjustments and enjoying a taste of spontaneity.

Incidentally, swimmer Jay heard I was looking for him. He sought me out. And we started dating for the middle part of the year. He was a great guy and treated me kindly. I never told him why I was looking to meet him. That was definitely NOT in my plan.