No Plan Survives Contact With Reality

No Life Plan Survives Contact With Reality

People often ask me how I can live without a plan for life.

It’s true, my life plan never extends beyond one year. Usually, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing 6 months from now!

People who ask this question wonder how my life can have direction if I don’t know where I want to be in five or ten years.

What gives my life purpose, they wonder?

Here is how I respond:

No plan survives contact with the enemy.

This is a paraphrase of a famous quote by the German Field Marshal, Helmuth von Moltke, who was an innovative military strategist in the 19th century.

He meant that even the most well thought-out, best-laid battle plans might have to be thrown out completely because the enemy is often unpredictable. The enemy doesn’t conform to your desires and beliefs. The enemy does what he wants, and it’s on you to adapt or die.

I would modify that piece of wisdom only slightly and say that no plan survives contact with reality.

Reality doesn’t care either what your grand plans were for homeownership or climbing the corporate ladder. Reality could burn your house down tomorrow with all your lovely junk in it. Or lay off your entire department if it would help the bottom line.

The unpredictability of reality underscores my point:

No five-year or ten-year life plan makes any sense five or ten years later.

If you want to test this out, pull out your five-year plan from five years ago:

  • How many milestones on there are still relevant?
  • How many goals no longer make sense in the context of your life?
  • How many items are not even interesting to you anymore?
  • How many references are there to industries that have changed drastically or been disrupted entirely by new technology (e.g. “Hire a literary agent”)?
  • Finally, how many of those goals did you actually accomplish?

An agile lifestyle allows you to live without a plan for life. Agile living gives you the flexibility to react and respond to changing conditions. Because an agile person focuses on preparation over planning and embracing change, the world becomes a less scary place. Where others see setbacks, an agile person sees opportunity.

My life plan is simple. It’s to take advantage of what comes next. Even if I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 6 months, I’m confident it will be awesome. Agile gives me that confidence.

Move to Toronto for an exciting opportunity in the industry? Sure.

Take a year off to travel Thailand? Why not.

Publish a novel exclusively on the Amazon Kindle and other ebook platforms? That wasn’t even possible five years ago.

The pace of change is accelerating. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is follow a plan you wrote for yourself ten years ago.

After all, it might say “Invest in more dot-coms and properties.”


What do you think? Is living without a five-year plan liberating or foolish? How are you living without a plan today? Hit me up in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter!

Image by by jakeliefer.

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