The Golden Rules: When Plans Don’t Go According to Plan

2. If Golden Rule #1 was start with a plan, Golden Rule #2 is this: realize your plan isn’t always going to work out. This. Is. Okay. Writer and speaker Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) articulated this beautifully:

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Having a plan is important and good and right so you can make measurable progress toward your goals. But when things change, and that’s not an if, that’s a when, because change is as sure as anything in this life, be ready to change too.

Copper himself was not in the plan a couple of years ago. My daughter was a full time college student in Alabama, engaged to be married, and she decided it was a good time to get a new puppy. I said “No, not a great idea, at least not right now,” and didn’t give it a second thought. I guess she heard “Yes, by all means, go get one, and soon!” In early March 2013, just a few weeks before her wedding, Jen showed up with a solid, squirmy little ball of golden fluff. She named him Wright’s Golden Comfort — Copper for short.

“He won’t be any trouble! He can stay with me in my apartment!”

sleepy baby Copper

Two weeks later, Copper had moved in with me, and Jen visited him on the weekends. The puppy who wasn’t going to be any trouble immediately took over my house, my schedule, my floors, and my life. It was impossible to blame him — besides, I was too busy potty training, and mixing up puppy kibble, and keeping an eye on where he was and what he was getting into. We enrolled him in puppy obedience classes, and he was a great student. Class after class, he continued to love the challenge of learning new things — and we loved seeing him learn and grow.

Turns out while I may have thought Copper wasn’t in my loosely-mapped-out life plan, he was an enormous part of the plan unfolding in all our lives. When my daughter married and moved to Washington state, Copper stayed with me, living up to his given name of “Golden Comfort” more times than anyone could count. I finally quit trying to make life fit my plans and started planning to fully embrace the life that was happening.

Plans aren’t a bad thing. Rigid adherence to them in the face of certain change? Well, that may be more like an exercise in futility. Watching Copper, I get a sense of exactly how to meet changes in plans — he’s always ready, always watching, always enthusiastic, and always willing to change his plans in response to what unfolds around him. He can nap on a moment’s notice. He knows when we’re near his leash, his food dish, and his favorite treats and toys. He recognizes car keys and bath towels. He can even take his cues based on what we’re wearing, or not. Shoes on? Let’s go! Shoes off? Where can I lay down near you? Copper is a study in how to make, and modify, a good plan.

The Golden Rules: First Things First

  1. Start with a plan. It will feel vastly better than limbo.

Copper, ready and waiting...

I love having a good plan. I love flexibility, don’t get me wrong. I’m so accustomed to things NOT going according to plan that when they do, I wonder, “What am I missing?”

Without a plan, the day can descend into unwanted things like chaos. Or complete inertia. We can spend all our time getting ready to do something without knowing for sure what it is we’re getting ready to do. We can end the day accomplishing little or nothing.

Copper knows the value of a good plan. Each morning, he smiles hugely when he sees me so much as flicker an eyelash. Because from that moment on, he is working his plan. First, a walk. Raining? Who cares? He’s a water dog! If I (heaven help us!) forget or get distracted, he gently reminds me it’s walk time by going to the laundry room, glancing at his leash and harness hanging inside the door, and then glancing at me. He does this until he is sure I’ve noticed him.

He prefers water be absolutely as fresh as possible, and if I don’t accommodate by turning on a trickle in the bathtub, he finds other less socially acceptable water dishes. He knows when it’s time for doggy ice cream, and he knows where it’s kept. He knows where all of his treats are at all times. He knows where his favorite toys are. He knows what time his evening walk takes place. And he knows when it’s time to brush his teeth and head for bed.

Plans can and often do change, but Copper knows the value of planning his work and working his plan. A deeply satisfied Golden Retriever is a delightful companion.