TFRL: The Planning Phase

Woman at Typewriter

TFRL is an ongoing series about the journey to The Fully Realized Life, and The Planning Phase, the third in a three-part conversation about the role of Visioning, Planning and Doing in living a fully realized life.

Last month, we jumped off our three-part conversation on Visioning, Planning and Doing  with a post on The Doing Phase, when you roll up your sleeves and get the job done. We continued the conversation earlier this month with The Visioning Phase. Today, we conclude the conversation with some tips for turning your vision into a plan.

Most of us are pretty good doers. At any given moment, we may or may not be doing the right thing, but we’re good at staying in motion. Trouble is, without a clear vision and a workable plan, all the doing in the world won’t lead us to the life we really want. To get to that life, we need to proceed with greater intentionality.

Intentionality begins with formulating a heartfelt vision for our lives, and developing a plan that will get us there. It’s something we can do at any point in our lives — because we’re never too old (or too young) to connect with our raison d’être, and it’s never too late to new begin. It’s a lesson I learned from my father, who was 37 years my senior. Every year on my birthday, beginning around the age when I started thinking I was over the hill, he’d say some version of, “What a great age. You have so much life ahead of you, yet you’ve lived long enough to know who you are.”

The best plans begin with a vision that’s firmly rooted in an understanding of who you are. I offered some tips for gaining a deeper understanding of who you are in The Visioning Phase. Today I’d like to add one more tip to the list. I’ll flesh-out more of the details more below, but at the heart of this tip is the idea that, if you apply yourself to developing a plan for executing whatever you think your vision may be — even if you’re not 100% sure — the work of developing a plan will help you clarify that you are executing on the right vision and, if you’re not, the work of planning will give you invaluable information, which you can use to clarify your vision and revise your plan. In other words, though we’ve talked about visioning, planning and doing as if they were three distinct and sequential steps, in practice, you may need to move back and forth among these three ways of thinking to arrive at your “final” plan. And note that I put final in quotes, because, as I discuss below, all plans are provisional, at least until we’re dead.

And now a few tips on The Planning Phase (or phases) of our lives.

Tip #1: Find Out How It Works. 

At some point — ideally, after you’ve formulated a clear vision for your life, one that includes your career, your personal life and how you want to live, you will arrive at a tangible goal like “I want to be a lawyer, or I want to be a screenwriter or I want to be a stay at home parent, or I want to have a career in science and a family life that works.” Once you have a goal in mind — and, remember, all goals are provisional until they’ve been verified, a process we’ll discuss under Tip #2 — your next step is to find out how it works. In other words, you’ll want to find out the rules of the game.

One of the things I learned from my time in Hollywood is that, even the most seemingly “anything goes” careers have rules. In screenwriting, one of the main rules of the game is that you need an agent. There really is no way around this. There are many different ways to get an agent — you can get a referral from someone  agents trusts (with producers making for some of the best referrals), you can make a feature film that does well on the festival circuit (with Sundance at the top of your pile), you can come up with some other clever way — but in the end you’ll need an agent, because that’s how the game is plaid. The agents are the gatekeepers and good luck crashing the gates without one.

Every career path has its rules. In some careers, the rules are very clear-cut, meaning that the rule implies certain steps that you must follow to get to your goal. For example, if you want to be a partner at a major law firm, there are a precise series of steps you follow to get there. In other careers, the rules are more like general guidelines. They still tell you what to do — for example, you must get an agent if you want a career as a screenwriter (though maybe there’s an exception that proves the rule) — but there are as many different ways to do it as there are people who’ve met with success. In either case, you’ll want to seek out people who’ve already been where you’re going. I call these people “wise elders.” So…

Seek Out Wise Elders, Even If They’re Younger Than You. A wise elder is anyone who has already arrived at the goal you’ve set for yourself. Attend a discussion, ask questions at a Q&A, ask people in your network to make an introduction, request an informational interview, or simply watch how to videos on You Tube. You can access an elder by asking someone in your network to make an introduction; by “cold-calling” them with a letter, LinkedIn message or in-person appeal in which you are clear about what’s in it for them (for example, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something they’ll agree is promising); or by simply watching them speak at a panel discussion, lecture or video posted on YouTube, TED or any other source you like.

Wise elders are invaluable resources because they (a) can tell you how things work, and (b) share the one of a kind, idiosyncratic story of how they got where they are. Both categories of information are invaluable. The former will teach you the general rules of the road, and the latter will teach you how to think beyond the rules. My favorite recent example of this is Sophia Amoruso, the founder of fashion & lifestyle retailer Nasty Gal, whom I just saw speak at Zefr’s very cool back alley space on Abbott Kinney in Venice, California. Amoruso is 29 years old and, over the past 6 years, she’s turned an ebay vintage clothing shop into a significant and evolving fashion and lifestyle brand that earned 22.9 million in revenue in 2011, and, in 2012, closed on both a $9 Million round of financing and a second $40 Million round, all while being guided, first and foremost, by her own inner compass. Amoruso did follow the “rules” of the game as well, but as often as not, she did that on instinct. Her plan wasn’t to “follow the rules” so much as it was to keep upping the ante on selling clothes and connecting with her customer and, in order to do that, she kept seeking out information on the internet on how things are done. For example, she raised capital for her company, but only after her company had real valuation, and only from people she could count as friends. Hearing this wise elder (who happens to be younger than me) speak reminded me to balance following the rules with going my own way.

The lessons you learn will very each time, but seeking out wise elders means you’ll always have information that it would otherwise take you years to gather on your own. You can shave years off your process by simply asking a wise elder who already knows.  And when you do, make sure you…

Ask The Right Questions. One of the most important questions you can ask a wise elder is “how does this work?” Ask them to tell you the rules of the road. Ask them to tell you about their experiences. And always ask the follow-up question. If someone tells you you need an agent, ask them the best way to go about getting one, and how to make yourself attractive to the agents you meet. This information will help you plan and it will help you make sure that you’re doing all the things you should do to reach your goal.

Embrace The Humble. When talking to a wise elder, be confident, but be humble too. Confidence conveys that you have what it takes. Humility conveys that you want and need their guidance or help. If you’re so confident that you come off like a know it all, you’re less likely to get the help that you need — either because you don’t seem to need it, or because no one likes a know it all.

I erred in the overconfidence direction when I was first pursing a screenwriting career. I was nearing the end of law school and had turned down the big law firm job offer I’d received in order to pursue my dreams in film. Somehow, I’d finagled an interview as an assistant at a film production company in New York that had strong ties to Hollywood. I was so busy trying to impress them that I ended up inadvertently leaving the impression that I didn’t really need this job. And yet, I did. This job would have taught me the ropes of an industry I wanted to be part of, and there was nothing I would have rather done. Unfortunately, I really wanted to impress them, and that got in the way of me conveying how much I wanted to support them as their assistant. The truth is, I was too busy thinking about me and how grand I would one day be to put my attention where it should have been: on them.

Embracing the humble is all about remembering your proper role, and it applies whether you’re an assistant, or Queen of the world. Pop/R&B Queen of the World proved the point well when she penned a note to her fellow Super Bowl performers which, in true humble-classy form, was shared on Twitter not by Bey herself, but by makeup artist Joanna Simkin. It read. “What a proud day for African American women! Kelly, Michelle, Alicia, JHud (Hudson) you are all beautiful, talented and show so much class! It was an honor to perform at the Super Bowl with you phenomenal ladies. Love Beyonce.” Some also speculate that Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance was an audition of sorts for a Wonder Woman movie that doesn’t even exist yet. If so, way to humble-classy her way into the part.

Tip #2: Verify Your Goal.

Once you’ve sat at the feet of a wise elder, you’ll have information you can use to verify your goal and confirm or revise your vision and plan. For example, if your goal is to be a mother and successful lawyer, you may learn from speaking to a wise elder that balancing motherhood with a career in litigation is difficult to do. At that point, you may revise your plan. Instead of deciding to be a litigator, you may pick a different area of the law, or you may build a career plan that will eventually allow you to transition from being a litigator to being a judge. Or, as you learn from your wise elder, you may decide that being a lawyer isn’t for you now that you know what’s actually entailed. At this point, you can go back to The Visioning Phase and revise your vision, giving greater emphasis to your parenting goals than you may have given before, and then develop a new plan that takes into account what you’ve learned about the world and your own priorities for your life.

Tip #3: Take It One Step At A Time.

Once you’ve verified your goal, you will want to firm up your plan, taking into account all that you learned from your wise elders. Then, take it one step at a time. Start where you are. If you are an outsider in the industry where you want to work, figure out how you can get a foot in the door before you plot how you can end up on top. This doesn’t preclude the possibility of your being an overnight success, but even over night successes have to start somewhere and that’s usually not at the top.

Tip #4: Remember, All Plans Are Provisional.

Planning is essential, but don’t get overly attached to your plan. Even if your goal remains unchanged, you’ll learn new things and surprising things will occur. When they do, you’ll want to be able to pivot and make another plan when one is called for. Some of the most interesting, rewarding lives are being lived by people who were willing to abandon their original plan in order to make a new plan that was better suited to how they or their circumstances changed over time. So make your plan, and then be willing to let it go.


PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.

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