Carolyn Woo
Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family
January 10, 2018 // Perspective

Plan B and some more

Carolyn Woo
Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family

As the new year is often the season for making plans, my attention was captured in a gift shop by a plaque that offers the wisdom, “There is no Plan B.” I wanted it for my studio (my craft and workspace that I refuse to call an office).

As strategy and planning are my professional trades, this quote conveys an urgent reminder to make this moment count, to not postpone actions until more favorable conditions descend and to honor our intentions with thoughtfulness, preparation and steadfastness.

All good until a little voice protested, “Really, no Plan B? Isn’t your own journey a series of unplanned moves: not only Plan B, but Plans C, D, E, F… too many to count?” My Plan A would not have led me to a field I have never heard of, nor serve in countries I could not locate on a map!

Plans serve a function, but they can become “too much of a good thing.” Our plan can imprison rather than enable us; it can subsume the purpose it is meant to serve and become the purpose itself. Let me cite three ways this can happen.

Many of us set and adhere to a schedule that abhors interruptions. These cause us to fall behind and lose focus. They make claims on our time and attention that have already been spoken for. Interruptions require us to change our priorities: to pivot from what I want to do to what another needs me to do; from me to them.

One of my mentors told me that interruptions are my work and they are where life happens for an administrator. It is the competition between tasks and people, and the choice defines what leadership is about. Scripture reminds us that angels may be masquerading as needy interrupters.

Other times we hold onto our plan out of fear to make a change. It is what we know and it seems to offer certainty even though it no longer evokes joy and does not require passion. I know a young man who devoted eight years of study for an academic career he no longer finds fulfilling. He can think of sunk costs, try to stick to it and look for fulfillment elsewhere.

This sounds like servitude: a surrender of the spirit for the sake of pragmatism. It leaves dormant the freedom God has given us discover that special something he has given each of us and to experience the best of ourselves as we toil, sing and sparkle while we help build his kingdom. 

The most insidious Plan A is that which removes God completely from view.

Recall the rich man about to build another barn for his harvest. There was no thought whatsoever for what is enough, what is to be shared and to whom he owes his bounty. His plan is single-minded, not unlike ours when responsible saving turns into swollen portfolios that become the benchmark and metric for the efficacy of our plans. In the realm of salvation, using a bowling analogy, his ball went into the gutter.

Clearly, not all interruptions are good and we should be serious about our plans. I do think we know the difference when the disruption and detour are for the good of other, for love, for God. We can hang our “Do not disturb” sign but realize that we may be passing on God’s humor and the unimaginable destinations when God is the disrupter.

Proverbs 19:21 reminds us, “Many are the plans of the human heart, but it is the decision of the Lord that endures.”

Woo is distinguished president’s fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.

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