Stop trying to plan and just live 10 seconds at a time.
Wow! Did I just say that? For those of you that know me personally, you know that I am a HUGE planner and I never thought I would EVER say those words. A close friend of mine, Mike, who I respect very highly left me with those words a couple of weeks ago when I saw him in Dallas and I have been reflecting on them ever since.
Luke and I enjoy kayaking and it is pretty relaxing most of the time. Yes, there is another experience to share there, but you'll have to wait on that one. Last spring, we drove down to the small town west of Lafayette, Indiana to Big Pine Creek after purchasing our hybrid kayaks that can go into level 3 rapids, but can also be used for open water. We drove down a dirt road and finally came around a corner to find a rocky creek with shale bluffs intermittently along the side. We hid our bikes at the take out point and then headed to the starting point seven miles up river. As we put in, we didn't know what to expect exactly. I had never been on this river. I did some research on the internet so I knew others had put in at this point and got out where we had locked up our bike. Who knows? The water could be too low or too high. All I knew was where we were starting and what the bridge looked like where we were supposed to get out. The only thing that mattered to me was that Luke and I were going to have some adventure time together and the rest we would figure out along the way. As we went down the creek, the water was moving faster than I had expected—we were at the mercy of the speed of the creek. The creek was not straight at all and it seemed like every time we came around a corner we would see more rapids ahead. We had to make decisions in a matter of seconds to determine the best route to take. The "best route" at first was the safest, but as we gained experience and understanding, I found that Luke and I began heading for the more challenging routes. This was fine with me because I love a good challenge. We traversed for two and a half hours, stopping to climb on the bluffs and just enjoying the beautiful countryside. Another successful adventure.
As I've reflected on this experience as well as the words my friend Mike shared with me, I found that even though this trip took some time to plan, once I was in the fast moving creek water there was no way that I could plan. Yes, we planned the overall kayak adventure: the kayaks, car racks and car to get to the river. But in that river, I had to live for the next 10 seconds and be willing to do whatever I had to do so that I wouldn't capsize my kayak and fall into the cold water.
So what does this have to do with leadership? I think we, as leaders, need to remind ourselves of our strengths and the resources that we have been blessed with. We can certainly develop a vision out of this understanding in order to know how we can use those talents and gifts to better this world, especially those that we have the opportunity to lead, but we cannot get so wrapped around the planning that we lose sight of what is going on around us. We have to be willing to do whatever is required of us and to live for the next 10 seconds... and for that matter we have to be ready to do it in a contagiously, optimistic way.
We do have tendencies to "over-plan" and get so wrapped up in the planning that we lose sight of what is going on in the next 10 seconds with those around us. We need to be ready to be used as a leader at all times. This could mean that we need to love someone that comes around a corner and whose body language is screaming, "Help me!" This could mean that we see work that needs to be done and jump on it to be an example to those we lead even if that work is not specifically tasked to us. This could mean that we listen to those who are counseling us to look at other job opportunities because it fits our character and gifts more than the one we are in.
There is a time to plan, but, as I reflect on my own experience, I tend to try to plan too much and I lose out on opportunities that fly right by me. I think there is a continuum, like the one below, where there is a balance. If we don't make ourselves aware of this, we will most likely fall to one side or the other depending on our past experiences and personality. Either extreme allows for missed opportunity that we can't afford to make. My hope is that these words have made you aware of your own tendencies, and that as you plan, that you would not lose sight of living for the next 10 seconds.
I would love to hear what you think concerning this topic as I continue to bounce it around in my head. Leave me a comment below and let's all continue to learn from each other, fellow leaders who have had many different experiences.