Planning Is Just Guessing. But With More Pie Charts and Stuff.

In News & Stuff, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, Uncategorized, Vision Is Better by David22 Comments

I taught at VanArts this morning, by which I really mean I talked for two hours and hoped those beautiful young minds would learn something from my string of disconnected thoughts. One of the things I  talked about, though with my tendency to digress, I have no idea which rabbit-hole I was down when my time ran out, was poetically titled: Planning Is Just Guessing. But With More Flow Charts. It was #8 on the list of sermons I planned to dazzle them with.As far as sermons go, I’ve had shorter titles.

When I made the transition into vocational photography, I’d already had my entrepreneurial feet wet for several years. In some way I’ve always had them. As a 10-year old my mother actually let me go door-to-door for a week before Christmas ( I was 10, she was The Age of Moms), selling the most hideous hand-made Christmas ornaments. Due to my own overwhelming cuteness as a child, I sold a great many of them.  Due to the fact that I made these things out of bark, dried plant matter, and googly-eyes, my overhead was low. High gross sales and low overhead meant I saved a good chunk of money for my first computer, though, unable to hang on to my money for that long, I spent it all, as I recall, on little Dungeons and Dragons figurines. Dwarves and dragons and stuff. Wow, was that a digression. So ahem, I made the transition into vocational photography with big plans. Really big plans.

Almost none of them came to pass. Life has a way of happening around us, inflicting itself upon us with very little regard for our own plans, never mind the clever flow charts and critical path diagrams we spend so much time making because it makes us feel like we’re doing something. If we aren’t moving forward, at least we can talk about what it will look like when we finally get traction. Might as well sit around a crystal ball as make all those charts, but it’s harder to get a line of credit for your business when you walk into the bank with one.

Planning is good. Don’t get me wrong. It serves us well when we need a starting point and a string of what ifs.  I’m great at planning. Notebooks full of lists and drawings and little check-boxes, and the only thing worse than planning too much is not planning at all. It’s foolish not to do your due-diligence and think things through. Here’s the point it’s taken me 4 paragraphs to get to: you can only plan  for one what you’ll do, not for what life will do to you.

Many of us look to the New Year like a blank slate. I think every day is a blank slate, so I have the advantage because when I make a mess of a day I can start over tomorrow. When others make a mess of their day they’ve sullied the entire year and at this point you’ll have to wait 361 days to start over. Given my propensity to muck things up first before turning it around and making something of my efforts, it’s best to keep my fresh starts on the shortest leash possible. Another digression.

If you’re beginning the New Year with great plans of world domination, then I salute you. When I was in physical rehab I had a white board beside my bed on which the nurses insisted I write my daily and weekly goals. I wrote on it once. Under daily goals I wrote: Same thing we do everyday. Try to take over the world. World Domination is a worthy goal. Hard to do it without plans.

Harder still if you hold so tight to those plans that you don’t see better opportunities in the twists and turns of life. No plan survives contact with the enemy, as they say. Not one for having enemies, I’d rather see it as contact with Life itself.

Hold those plans with an open hand, folks. Don’t spend so much time looking down at them that you miss what’s happening around you. Opportunities come from conversations with real people, and reacting to the unexpected things life brings you, not flow charts. They come from leading a busy, interesting life, and reacting well, and quickly, to the things you never saw coming. Life happens, don’t let your clever plans blind you to the things it brings your way.


  1. “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon.
    Thanks David, for giving us an interesting new twist on the subject. Love the part about starting with a clean slate everyday, and holding your plans with open hands.
    Oh and Melissa, great Anne Shirley quotes, she’s one of my all-time favourites, too!

  2. Pingback: Things You’ll Find Interesting January 10, 2013 | Chuq Von Rospach, Photographer and Author

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  4. Here I go again…..

    “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.“

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  5. I like the idea of starting over again tomorrow instead of waiting for the arbitrary date of next new year to begin again. Probably because I’ve been doing allot of starting over these last two years..

  6. Pingback: Things You’ll Find Interesting January 5, 2013 | Chuq Von Rospach, Photographer and Author

  7. Hi David et al,

    New reader. So glad I discovered your blog and books and eBooks at Craft & Vision. Thank you.

    This is completely off topic, but I wasn’t sure where else to put it.

    Does anyone know of a forum focused on improving craft, rather than obsessing about the latest gear? Dpreview and both seem much more oriented toward gear than anything else. FM does have image sharing forums with some critiquing going on, but there’s often not much meaningful discussion about vision, composition, technique, etc.

    The extend of critique on Flickr and even 500px seems to be “Great shot!” or “Nice work!” or other similarly banal and unhelpful comments.

  8. Great post! Re: getting started … Heard a great quote on the radio yesterday: “Those who are unstuck are unstoppable.”

  9. Wow! Both a Dungeons & Dragons and a Pinky and The Brain reference! You just keep getting cooler and cooler David.

  10. well that’s pretty compley wisdom, David =). What i find by far the hardest part, is to get started (with any given plan). To find that point to start with. That one step that takes you further. Not to get lost in and totally overwhelmed by my lists. Now to me, the start of a yeat offers more momentum that a new day – so i’ll try to feel and embrace that fresh momentum every day!

  11. Love this post.
    You wrote many more about this subject in
    VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography

  12. ” I made the transition into vocational photography with big plans. Really big plans.

    Almost none of them came to pass.”

    For some reason…considering the achievements you have made…theese words are encouraging. Reading this post was like an espresso in the morning, wakening and needed 🙂

  13. Hey Melissa, love that first quote from Anne Shirley…. fits in beautifully with this theme… and supports the concept of get out there and take risks too… at least in my mind it does…

  14. lovely write-up, David!
    it feels real; feels like taken from real life…
    I love the words… “I think every day is a blank slate, so I have the advantage because when I make a mess of a day I can start over tomorrow.”…. I would take these words as the most important… sometimes we tend to look forward through a 500mm lens, forgetting that we can stumble against something which is just a feet away….
    great write-up!!

  15. There’s a thin line between making plans and executing them called reality and as long as you do not confront with it – you’ll probably not getting anywhere.

    My resolution for this year is to cut loose people who are not getting anywhere. Sounds cruel to judge them that way? Maybe, but as long as they’re in my life – I feel like being pulled down. Instead, I want to have inspiring people around me. Though we’ll probably never meet, David, I thing that you, your books and blog are a way to get inspiring things around.

    Maybe one day I’ll get to where I want to be. Need to make plans for it. Execute them patiently. And await the end.

    Yours faithfully,
    Radoslaw Komuda
    form Poland

  16. This ‘young mind’ of 48 is overflowing with ideas and inspiration after your talk today. It seemed as if you were speaking directly to me and reading my inner thoughts.
    I read your blog post ‘life is short’. So true. Thanks for speaking to that today as well.
    I’ve been working on ‘growing a pair’ this past year. Your talk today has inspired me to keep pushing against my fear of failure. Thanks for sharing your experiences with facing fear.
    Maybe you could buy me lunch sometime. *wink*

  17. Wow, Melissa, I need to reread Anne of Green Gables. She was one of my heroes as a kid.

    David, I especially appreciate “hold those plans with open hands.” It is such an art to plan (so that something actually happens), to get organized and take action and be steadfast and focused, and at the same time to let life unfold and reveal its possibilities. Thanks for being all about learning how to do that. Hope someday to do a class with you or something.

  18. one of my all-time favourite literary characters is Anne Shirley (anne of green gables) and she had two wonderful quotes that I think of time and time again:
    “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet” and

    “Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”

    Pretty much sums it up for me!

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