Plan B

December 26, 2004

9 min read


Relax. Just because our plans don't work out, doesn't mean that failure and disappointment are inevitable.


"And in the world of entertainment, NBC announced today that Tonight show host, Jay Leno, will retire. Conan O'Brien, current host of Late Night, is expected to replace him."


I suppose this was, indeed, newsworthy to some. At the very least, to the Leno and O'Brien families, I'm sure. Personally, I'm still waiting for Johnny Carson to return, so the story barely registered. That is, until the announcer completed his report.


"The change will take place sometime in 2009."


I heard right. You read right…2009.

Those folks over at NBC sure do plan ahead, don't they? I don't know about you, but I have trouble knowing what I'll eat for lunch today. Ask me where my kids are going to school next year, and my stomach does a 360. Frankly, I don't even know what the next sentence of this article will be about! Last I checked winter 2004 had just begun and they're already mapping out the fall 2009 schedule.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. On the one hand, you have to admire this kind of advance preparation. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "Look ahead or you'll find yourself behind." Or, as our Sages taught us some 1600 years before Mr. Franklin, "Who is wise? The one who anticipates the future." Makes a lot of sense.

On the other hand, we live in a world punctuated with uncertainty. Planning too far ahead seems fruitless, even foolhardy. Just ask George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, who was convinced he had sewn up a World Championship when he invested a mere $150 million dollars in signing Alex Rodriguez. Not quite. Or take a tragic glance at Christopher Reeve, who told the world that he had almost believed that he was as indestructible as the role he embodied. Must we live a life where we are expected to expect the unexpected?

Perhaps God has something to say about all this. In fact, He does.

It is by now well known that God created the world in six days. The plan was a rather simple one. It would be a perfect world. A world of astonishing beauty, of impeccable harmony… free of conflict and fault. But, explains Rabbi Avrohom Pam, of blessed memory, the plan – yes, God's plan – went 'awry.'

On the first day of Creation, God said, "Let there be light; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). But something was amiss. The Midrash explains that the light was of such spiritual intensity that God actually removed this light and 'saved' it, so to speak, for the righteous in the World to Come.

The third day of Creation was also in need of repair. God created fruit trees with the characteristic that the bark of the tree would miraculously contain the same taste as its fruit (ibid1:11)! Apparently, the earth had other ideas. The trees indeed produced fruit, but the bark did not 'cooperate.' As a matter of fact, the earth was subsequently cursed for this 'rebellion.'

Just because our plans don't work out, doesn't mean that failure and disappointment are inevitable.

Incredibly, Day Four of Creation brought more imperfection. On that day God created two great orbs of light – the sun and the moon. The Talmud (Chullin 60b) explains that they were initially created equal in size. The moon, however, could not tolerate this sharing of the celestial throne and 'complained' that, "It is impossible for two kings to share the same crown." God responded by reducing the size of the moon. Again, change was necessary.

One might have expected some sort of declaration of disappointment from God regarding these and other modifications that Creation of the world had necessitated. After all, God's plans had been challenged and even defied!

Quite the contrary – upon completion of the six days of Creation the verse tells us, "And God saw all that he had made and it was very good." Shocking. Despite the many shortcomings and alterations that accompanied the world's beginnings, God described it, not as "good," but "very good."

In a classic display of 'total flexibility,' God taught us a lesson of incalculable value. Just because our plans don't work out, doesn't mean that failure and disappointment are inevitable. You must be ready with Plan B. And Plan B can be "very good" too.

The fact that these "changes" took place in no way implies any imperfection in God or His Divine Plan. Nothing "surprises" God; that would be heresy. Perhaps God "planned" this Plan B process, so that we, his creations, can learn from it. Who are we to know God's ways? In any event, these are deep and complex issues that must be studied at many levels.

You and I both know people who live on each end of the preparation spectrum. I know two brothers, for example; one arrives at the airport as much as 4 to 6 hours prior to the departure time of his flight, while the other huffs and puffs to the gate and slithers onto the aircraft seconds before the door is closed and sealed. To each his own, I guess.

But which approach is most prudent? The early bird spares himself considerable anxiety, but idles away 3-5 fruitful hours while crumpled up in a metal seat waiting at Gate B67. The "huffer and puffer" utilizes every last minute to its maximum productivity, but accidentally knocks over three old ladies with a garment bag traveling 12 miles per hour on the escalator and may need the overhead oxygen bag by the time he settles into his middle seat in the rear of the plane.

Clearly, no system is without its failings. But one thing is crystal clear: Whether your particular modus operandi is closer to Mr. Cautious, Miss Balance, or "Off the Cuff Charley," what counts is your capacity to let go of the wheel and declare that "someone else" is really steering the craft.

We all like that feeling of being in control, even if it is often a mirage. We peer down the tracks or the boulevard to catch a hopeful glimpse of the approaching train or bus, as if our seeing it can will it to arrive faster. We delude ourselves, often within elaborate parameters, just to prolong the sometimes obvious fantasy that we are the true masters of our own destiny. It makes us feel comfortable, safe and snug. The notion that we don't really captain our own ship frightens us and forces us to flee into denial.

There's a fine line between doing our best and over-investing in our severely limited powers of preparation.

And over-preparation is a hallmark of that delusion. It is an exercise in futility and a statement about our slender belief system. We need to step back more and allow the True Commander to chart the course. Of course we need to prepare and we need to do so responsibly. That is our charge. Without our full effort we are wrong to ask for or expect God's intervention on our behalf. But there's a fine line between doing our best and over-investing in our severely limited powers of preparation.

How often do we seek a particular item – a camera, a house, a gown – and after doing all our "research" and comparisons, we find that the one we really want is "no longer in stock," or discontinued. Sadly, many of us, when seeking a mate do the very same thing. We look, we compare, even do research… and then come up empty-handed. Over-preparation, in this case, takes the form of seeking perfection. Sometimes allowing Him to guide us means taking the plunge.

Oft times I am called upon to give a speech. It is usually a privilege, sometimes a thrill, but always a pressure. Many listeners are often surprised to learn that even well-known performers and seasoned speakers frequently experience a certain measure of anxiety before a presentation – no matter how comfortable they may seem to the public eye.

Early on in my speaking career, I was asked to address a rather large audience on a particularly esoteric topic. The closer I got to D-Day, the more I felt the tension mounting. And then I had a brainstorm. If I wrote out my entire speech – all 35 minutes of it – word for word – my angst would certainly be diminished. And so I did.

Well, my plan worked… to a degree. My nervousness was clearly reduced by knowing every word I would utter, but the reviewers basically panned the show. The overwhelming majority of listeners said I lacked passion and sincerity, and that I was "just not myself." They were right. My zeal had disappeared with my apprehension. It was the last time I tried that strategy. I had prepared too much and I paid the price.

Letting go isn't easy, even if we really do have faith in Him. But trust we must. And one of the best ways to amplify that trust is by reminding ourselves of what God has already done for us. Spend a few minutes a day doing an inventory of the every day gifts and little miracles the Almighty has provided for you. By reminding yourself of God's "proven record," you'll be boosting your capacity to let go. After all, He's racked up some pretty impressive accomplishments already, so adding to the list will seem reasonable to you. You'll find yourself preparing in a more reasonable way and relying on Plan B with confidence. And you'll stop fretting about Plans C, D and E.

Be cognizant of what it is you are preparing for. Evaluate each situation carefully before deciding whether to allow your "factory setting" to kick in or determining that this calls for less preparation than you are used to. Then get out of the way; demonstrate that your real trust is in God's hands.

Secondly, don't worry if have you have to rely on Plan B. Even God did, and everything worked out "very good."

Sure, 2009 is right around the corner for some people, but learning how to let go is a life-long process. Might as well start now.

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