The best laid plans

Many years ago I had a friend who had set out a five-year plan for her life…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Many years ago I had a friend who had set out a five-year plan for her life.

For each year of those five, she had steps she had intended to follow, goals to achieve, with all of it to focus on a couple large-scale intentions that would coalesce around the five-year mark.

She even had an unspecified outline charting out the next ten, even twenty years of her life. Graduating from college, a nursing degree, marriage, home purchase and children were just a few key markers on her life map.

I remember looking at her life-map and marveling.

No one I knew back then even imagined attempting such a thing.

I, and everyone I knew at that age, (in our early 20s) certainly had not even considered it.

I studied it in detail and asked her if she really thought she could keep to her life schedule.

She seemed slightly offended and emphasized that she certainly intended to.

How she did, or did not follow her life plan, is an exercise in confirmation bias.

Unexpected crises and diversions emerged of course, but she, like most of us, with or without life plans, made most of those life-markers.

Some took far more than five years, some never happened and relationships (and the job market) were a bit more complicated than first anticipated.

An unplanned messy divorce erupted, which impacted home ownership and career plans.

In other words, life happened.

My life, meanwhile had taken more than my share of detours, obstacles and unexpected opportunities.

Many years later I was teaching college level English and writing and, with my students, spent a lot of time analyzing and making sense of news, life experiences and the possibilities and challenges before us and attempting to find, or apply, patterns and a sense of direction in the blur of choices and possibilities.

One morning, on the way to my classes, I heard a report on a coalition of corporate CEOs discuss the recent turn of events. After the usual small talk and introductions, the overweening, dominating question emerged; “Who is really the boss?”

After a rousing discussion, the consensus was clear – there was no CEO or board or even guiding philosophy that was the boss – the situation was the boss.

Our life goals, our best intentions, even company plans and policies hit the buzz-saw of circumstances and sometimes fragment into a million more possibilities, some promising, some challenging while a few might be catastrophic or even exhilarating beyond imagination.

In circumstances large or small, the situation IS the boss.

Who can factor in earthquakes, illnesses, car accidents, pandemics, meteoric rises in real estate prices, unexpected business opportunities or even the vagaries of the next phone call or email?

Again, this principle holds true on every scale from personal to corporate, from local neighborhood to global enterprise.

Several years ago for example, I had a short-term teaching job in southern China.

I was only going to be there for two weeks.

I had the great idea of finally reading some of those books I had intended to read for years. I figured that with jet lag, not knowing anyone, not having any personal mode of transportation and no distractions besides work, I would have plenty of time for reading.

Once I got there however, I realized that, yes I only had two weeks and there were a near-infinite range of possibilities to encounter, shop and eat that I knew I would almost certainly never have again.

I went to night markets, local parks and even a bike ride one afternoon with several students. I didn’t have time for sitting by myself and reading. Who had time to read when there was a whole new world to explore?

I ended up donating several of my favorite books to the college library.

Life is full of circumstances like this.

We have focused intentions – even clear-cut plans, and then, to use a common phrase, life happens when we are doing other things.

2020 was a year when virtually every career plan or business strategy was upended.

Who among us would have expected the toilet paper frenzy and related hoarding of sanitizer among other things, the stock market swings of late January 2021 or the political and racial tensions erupting in our city centers and state capitols?

COVID-19 became the game-changer in everything from automotive production to global shipping to grocery shopping and school attendance.

How, where and when we work in 2021, and presumably beyond, will look nothing like the work place most of us knew just a year or so ago.

In car commercials several years ago, there was a phrase that became popular in pop culture; “This is not your father’s Buick.”

The economy in 2021, in fact for the foreseeable future is “not your father’s economy.”

Relentless demographics are changing the color, texture, character and direction of our economy and culture.

The idea of “father” buying a car, or even car ownership itself, is becoming more and more irrelevant each passing year.

“Traditional” expectations about business, private or even public behavior are up in the air.

Even the maps, guideposts and definitions that “father” took for granted are no longer helpful.

You could call it the great re-set, realignment, reshuffle, but no arena of life, from politics to economics to technology to grocery shopping will bear much resemblance to “father’s” world.

Political parties, urban centers and our ways of doing business are unrecognizable.

Anyone remember potlucks or neighborhood block parties? Business conventions or luncheons?

Will they ever be the same? Should they?

Many of us had a strong faith in our companies, our political parties, even our ways of doing business.

From ideas like universal basic income (UBI) to forgiveness of student loan debt to co-housing or outside-only dining and a thousand more, the rules are changing faster than we can even keep track of them.

When a major company, like (once-Seattle based) Boeing loses $12 billion in a single year ( with no end in sight for its continued losses and the fossil fuel industry (among many others) looks increasingly bleak, if not outright catastrophic, I think we all know that it is not some global cabal, or one world government pulling the strings or making the big (and even little) decisions.

Everyone, from multi-national corporations to local restaurants and shops seems to be hemorrhaging cash-flow.

We are in what I’m going to call a slap-in-the-face economy.

Our five-year plans have lost their jurisdiction – even as reference points.

Now we know for certain who the real boss is.

It is in fact the new boss, same as the old boss. The situation is still the boss.


For an in-depth analysis of politics and technology, I highly recommend this article:


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