I have not posted anything in a while, despite a personal goal to write more during 2016. As the election neared and the debate on social media moved toward a fever pitch, it did not seem like the time to write about “soul.” After the election, I told myself, things will calm down. Well nothing went the expected way: Trump won, the stock market went crazy, the blogosphere got even more strident bemoaning the end of days on one side or declaring an uncouth, foul mouthed rich guy from New York City to be the messiah on the other. Looking back on my “break” from writing, I realize I made a classic mistake: I expected something to happen and was ill prepared when it did not. There is nothing more damaging to the soul of your organization, your family, or your own wellbeing than excessive expectation.
We all dream and fantasize and we all have expectations of the future. The reality is that most expectations are really fantasies: good or bad subconscious projections of how we would like a period of time to unfold. It is all too easy for us to become attached to our expectations, and treat their failure to materialize as little deaths. How else can you explain the post-election reactions on college campuses as anything other than a form of mourning.
I was once told a story about a class Rabbi Noah Weinberg was giving in Jerusalem. The rabbi asked a group of students if they had ever had their prayers answered. A young woman spoke up and told the room that several years ago her father had a fatal heart attack. As she, her sister and her mother stood over their father and husband who had just been pronounced dead, they all started to pray for a miracle to bring him back. A minute or two later the machines started to beep again and a faint heartbeat was detected. Their prayers had been answered, the man lived. The rabbi then asked what became of the father. She said about 18 months later he died of a heart attack notwithstanding his family’s fervent prayers. The rabbi then asked what was different the second time. The woman replied: “The first time we prayed with broken hearts for a miracle, the second time we expected it.”
This story gets to the heart of how expectations can influence our planning (personal, organizational, financial). Expectations can lead to taking things for granted and this changes the nature and depth of our effort, often in subtle or imperceptible ways. When the “expected” does not happen the results can be catastrophic, emotionally and/or financially. The bottom line is that there is nothing that can really be taken for granted or assumed. Even natural laws are under assault as Quantum Physics injects an ever-growing uncertainty into the structure of our physical world.
Where does this leave planning? Is it necessary or just an act of hubris? The truth is that it can be either. In my opinion, the central purpose of planning is not setting goals for the future. Rather, the essence of planning is establishing the core values that are driving you forward. Real values are not a marketing tool to show the world how unique and trustworthy you are. They are the core immutable beliefs that motivate you to get up and do what you do. They are the foundation of how you analyze and respond to things. True values are the things about you that do not change when circumstances do. They provide the framework for how you deal with the unexpected and the essence of real planning.
From a bedrock of values, you can look into the future and try and set goals, understanding that this is in exercise in statistical probability: a best guess based on your current knowledge of what the future might look like. We must try and remember that our plans are projections, a snapshot in time, and not something to which we should become attached. When the unexpected happens, or seems likely to occur, we need to go back to our core values and remember who we are and why are here.
From my perspective, this is the essence of building a business, a charity, a family, or a life from your soul.