The Best-Laid Plans


June 11, 2014 by Jean

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
And lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain

– Robert Burns, “To a Mouse, On Turning Up In Her Nest With the Plough”

I’m a planner – and have been for as long as I can remember. As a child, I went through a period when, before I went to bed each night, I would make pages-long detailed schedules for the next day. I would leave these minute-by-minute plans at the foot of my bed, on top of the carefully folded pile of clothes I planned to wear the next day. I have relaxed a bit over the years!

As an adult, I honed my skills for unpacking a goal or task into a planned sequence of manageable steps. My best planning strategies have included prioritizing goals and staggering tasks so that I’m not trying to do too many things at once. When I was teaching, for example, my course planning process included a master calendar of due dates for assignments that would need grading so that I could space them out.

For the most part, my planning tendencies have served me well; but one of the life lessons I had to learn as I grew older is that things don’t always (don’t ever??) go as planned. As Robert Burns is often paraphrased in standard English, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

I’ve been reminded of that lesson as I’ve settled into my new retiree life in Maine. I knew there would be a lot to deal with in these first weeks and months as I change legal residence, get a new addition built on my house, get my belongings moved here from Gettysburg, shop for a new car, get a new woodstove for my house, etc.; so I tried to prioritize these, dealing with them sequentially rather than all at once. For example, I tried to schedule the move of my belongings that are in storage in Gettysburg for August, after the new addition is done. I decided that I would also wait until August to buy a new car. And the new woodstove could wait until early fall. But, “the best-laid plans….”

When I scheduled my move from Gettysburg, I discovered that I couldn’t have my belongings delivered to Maine whenever I wanted. Because I don’t have a full truck-load, my belongings need to be piggy-backed on someone else’s move; and, as the mover explained, they don’t have many people moving to New England. (“If you were moving to North Carolina,” he noted, “I could do it anytime you want.”) So currently my belongings are scheduled to arrive in mid-July, and I need to make a temporary space for them until their new homes are ready. Then, five days after I arrived in Maine, as I was coming home from doing errands and feeling good about how many items I had already checked off my to-do list, my 2003 Prius suddenly died and had to be towed to the Toyota dealership where it was officially declared brain-dead (hybrid battery failure) ten days later. Oops! Time to move that car purchase from August to June. Yesterday, as I was about to go out to do errands and visit with my friend Joyce in Portland, a crown fell off a back molar – and my afternoon turned into the search for a new dentist (something I didn’t think I’d need to do for several more months) and a visit there to get the crown cemented back in place.

All of which is a reminder that, while it is good to have a plan, I also need to be flexible. The best-laid plans of mice and men (and women) often go awry, and plans will have to be adjusted accordingly.

7 thoughts on “The Best-Laid Plans

  1. Jean says:

    At times like you’ve been having with your unscheduled schedule changes I ask myself if this is an inconvenience or a tragedy and that usually puts things in prospective. Life is laughing at your planning, that’s all. We share the listing making at night for the next day and I, too, have been doing it since I was young.

    Could you rent a storage unit near-by for your stuff that is arriving early? Many places will rent short term….just a thought so you and your contractors won’t have to work around stuff.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I still make a to-do list for the next day before I go to bed at night — but it lacks the obsessive detail of my childhood efforts.
      The problem with renting a storage unit is that I would then need a truck and helpers to get the stuff to and from the storage unit. I am looking at the option of renting one of those on-site storage units, which would be much more convenient. The other option is to put stuff in the basement until I’m ready to move it upstairs.

  2. How well I have learned this since retiring…illness, a crown falling out (yes it happened to me too) and then this unexpected surgery and turning me into a more flexible person these days. Hoping things finally smooth out but apparently these are things we have to work through in the beginning so we can enjoy our retirement.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I am thinking of all these disruptions as a temporary bump in the road that will be followed by things smoothing out — but I wonder. It seems to me one of the lessons of adulthood is that “life happens.”

  3. It does make you kind of smile (not too big a smile) when life laughs at your plans. A list is good but life almost makes you have Plan A and a Plan B which requires another list. 🙂 Sounds like you are up to the task whatever it is. 🙂

    • Jean says:

      Judy, I’m pretty good at finding the silver linings in whatever life throws at me (definitely a “make lemonade” type). I told my contractor the other day that all these disruptions were a message from the universe: “You think you’re in charge here? Ha!!”

  4. Dearest Jean, First of all, sorry I’ve been AWOL. I too have had several unscheduled (at least according to MY schedules) trips, stumbles, and falls and haven’t blogged or responded to blogs for a few months. So CONGRATULATIONS!!!! I’ve been playing catch-up with your posts and found this the perfect one with which to restart my commenting. I make mental and physical lists too but have come to the conclusion that there are other activity lists being made elsewhere, and the surprise factor might just be a way to keep me awake, alive, and charged up. Oh I get plenty frustrated–especially with health hiccups and car nonsense–but I guess they make me stop, stand back and try a different approach to my plans. That’s what’s been happening to me, and your post made me feel like part of a community again and reminded me to laugh. Thanks!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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