Planning is vital to success. One of my favorite chess stories comes from Northwestern State University. During an English History class, the professor told us a story of King George I of England. The professor told the undergraduate class how King George didn’t take the advice of his military leaders unless they could prove their skills to him. The king considered the game of chess to be the ultimate judge of military strategy skills. King George was an able player of chess. The only way he would listen to your military advice was to defeat him in chess. In other words, if the king defeated you or the game ended in a draw, he didn’t want or need your advice.
Each semester I meet young men and women who are not ready for what exists outside the formal education environment. During the first class meeting, I ask each student to introduce themselves. In their introduction, they are asked to share their major and their back-up plan. The back-up plan is what keeps them from being 35 years old, still living on mama’s couch with no job. In the past I normally have about twelve to fifteen students, out of twenty, that have no clue about a backup plan. About five any given semester have no idea what they want to do once they are out of college. College is simply done because it comes after high school.
Planning for the future
Over the week I began thinking what I was like at 18 years old and right out of high school. I really wasn’t much different. My plan was to major in music theory and composition. I had no backup plan. In fact, I couldn’t see beyond the end of college. I was not prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood. There were lots of mistakes made between the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and Generation X.    The Baby Boomer generation was determined not to be the stale and overbearing like their parents, the Greatest Generation was. The Baby Boomers saw the horrors of World War II and blamed the aftermath on their parents. They set off to solve the perceived deficiencies of the older generation. In the process, new mistakes and missteps were made as they began to raise the next generation.
Generation X, or those born between 1964 to 1994, took the mistakes of our parents and the “unfairness” we witnessed in society. And just as previous generations have done, we have blamed our failures not on ourselves, but on the previous generations. As I was preparing for class, I began to wonder what I would say if I had the chance to talk to my younger self, back in 1988.
Not having a plan is planning to fail
Yes, that’s right. Not having a plan is planning to fail. Outside of having a plan to get a music theory and composition degree, I did not have a plan. Because of this, I didn’t have any real goals outside of going to class. And soon, even that was not enough to get me to class or to even complete college. After being put on academic suspension for a semester, I decided to enlist in the U. S. Army. For me, it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Not only did I learn how to face life, I began to understand the importance in planning. I also learned some important lessons about myself, about who I am, and the importance of having a vision for myself.
Having a plan is more than “I want to get this degree and get a job in that.” Having a plan includes knowing what is needed for the steps in between. It means understanding the goal you’ve set for yourself. In 1988, if anyone would have asked me what I wanted to do after I earned the degree in music theory and composition, I would not have had an answer. I didn’t have any real goals and no plan to achieve them. What I did have was an excellent plan to fail – and I did that well!
If you do not know where you are going…
I love the old country comedian Jerry Clower. In one of his stories he shared, he asked a serious question: “If you don’t know where you’re going how will you know when you get there?” Not knowing what I was going to do with the music degree, I really had no idea where I was heading. For many in those music college courses their plans were to teach in public education music programs. I wasn’t interested in that. There was no passion or ambition for me in public school music programs. Sure, I was in band from the fifth grade up through college. I enjoyed learning the discipline of music – but it was not my passion. I was majoring in music not out of passion or desire but because music was something that seemed to come naturally to me.
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