Friday, October 5, 2012

You Need To Know This: Have A Plan

Here we go with the first series, You Need To Know This. Yes, I changed the title already. I'm having trouble making decisions lately. Oh well.

I was also having a heck of a time deciding in what order these posts should appear. I'd read the list and get totally stuck. Couldn't move. I'd head over to Facebook to see if I could clear my brain. We all know how that works. Doesn't. Then, one day, when I was working out, the answer came to me. I love it when that happens. I stop thinking about what's bugging me and, when I least expect it, bingo - the answer.

Here's what I figured out. I wouldn't choose the order, I'd let somebody else choose the order! And who would that someone else be? Some of the very people for whom these posts matter. Other artists in my life, people I've known over the years as students or colleagues, the very people I think about as I am writing these posts.

The first post has been chosen by:

Adam Kemmerer.  Adam studied voice with me when I taught at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Being a part of Adam's development from a quiet, almost shy young man into a “you gotta hear this guy” singer/actor was one of the highlights (so far) of my teaching career. He tried everything I suggested, including regular practice sessions (what a concept) and if it didn't work, he tried again. In the 4 years he studied with me, he never gave up. Ever. His hard work was rewarded with many leading roles while at Muhlenberg. That hard work continues to reward him now, as he pursues his career in New York City. Here, check out his website:

There's one more thing I have to tell you about Adam. He is a throwback guy, to the time when a person kept their word, and had integrity about their work and life. I've always admired that about him.  Adam chose:

Have A Plan

Spend Some Time With Your Dreams

The first thing you need to do is spend some time with Dreams #1 and #2.  Remember when you were 10 and you'd live our your dreams in your bedroom? Yes, that dream. Mine involved my sister's records, a hairbrush which thought it was a microphone and a huge audience. That's Dream #1 and it is very important. That's the one that you're probably trying to work on every day OR the one that you spend all of your time trying to ignore. If you're already working on this dream every day, keep going. If you're ignoring the dream, I have a piece of advice for you. Don't do that!!! Little kids, especially the one that resides inside of you, are extremely honest. Pay attention. You don't have to act yet, but you do have to pay attention. That dream is the essence of who you were meant to be, especially if you were also using that hairbrush as your microphone, directing the neighborhood in dramatic productions or painting on the walls.

Dream #2 is very close to Dream #1, but more pragmatic. Dream #2 possibly appeared at the same time as Dream #1, but might have appeared later, perhaps when you were in your teens. The realities of life were becoming clearer to you. Yes, you loved playing the guitar, but you also loved the volunteer work you did with special needs kids. Perhaps Dream #2 led you to your present work with autistic children. 

 When you think about your life, you feel pretty darn good. Working with special needs kids is fulfilling for you.  You've also had some amazing performing opportunities in your life, perhaps even touring with your band all over the US for a couple of years. While there are days when your work with the kids wears you out, you recognize that your passion for the guitar is still alive.  For all of this,you are grateful. 

Dream #2 should not feel like you've settled for second-best. Dream #2 should feel like you went with a strong passion, which is a variation of Dream #1.  Both of these dreams should bring you great joy and a sense that you are doing what you were meant to do with your life. 

I was going to tell you to write down your Dreams, but then I realized I have never written mine down. I don't have to. They are alive and present in my gut and in my work. If you think it will help you, take the time to write them down. Don't worry, this post will be waiting for you.

Convert Your Dreams Into A Plan

Dreaming is absolutely necessary. I can't encourage you enough to dream. Go ahead. But we also have to figure out how you're going to turn those dreams into reality. And this is the point where you are either getting ready to stop reading this post or have become immensely intrigued.

Turning dreams into reality IS terrifying. And yes, this can feel like another pointless exercise. Do it anyway. If you find even one miniscule insight into what drives you, this exercise will be worth the effort.

Write The Plan Down

Honestly, I find this to be one of the scariest exercises in life. I do. There's something about writing goals down that makes them feel more permanent, and that means I have to commit. Yikes. Your plan can be as simple as a list of goals or as intricate as working with a life coach. Here's three different approaches that I have used:
1. Strategic Plan I was in my late 20s the first time I did a Strategic Plan. It was tough and driven. I acted on it for a few months, got discouraged and stuck it in the back of the filing cabinet. That was a mistake, but that's what I did.  Some years later, I stumbled upon this Strategic Plan and was pleasantly surprised to find I had actually achieved some of my original goals.  But I couldn't use this Plan now.  It was as outdated as my Olivia Newton John hairstyle.

Flash forward to 5 years ago. While life was fulfilling in many ways, there was this occasional nudge in my gut that said, “Hey, you up there. Are you sure you are doing what you really want to be doing?” I recognized that the time had come for another Plan so I could get the nudge to stop.

I vowed to begin this Strategic Plan at the end of a weekend getaway to San Diego. I have a very strong memory of walking around the San Diego Airport, literally afraid to put my hopes and dreams for my life on paper. I remember laughing at myself as I desperately tried to find something in the airport that needed my attention more than this exercise. Me, the strong one, the doer, the one always giving out the advice could NOT put that pen to that paper.

When I did finally start writing, here are the steps I followed:
  • I divided the Plan into no more than three areas. Mine were Performing, Teaching and Personal.
  • I started by envisioning 5 years in the future and then I worked backwards. This was very important. Most of us know exactly where we want to be, but we can't see how to get there from where we are right now.
  • I chose 3-5 goals under each area for each of the 5 years.
  • I wrote it down.
  • I was prepared to spend time with the Plan. I knew I would have to draft, contemplate and edit.
  • I set a deadline. The possibility exists that you will get frustrated and want to give up. A deadline will help you finish the Plan.
2. Another Way – Okay, does that idea feel too restrained for you? Perhaps you are hyperventilating at the thought of such a clear exercise? Try this approach instead:
  • Pick a date in the future, let's say Thursday, April 15, 2017. Yes, five years out seems to be the magic number.
  • Write what that day is like in your life. Where do you live? Who do you live with? What do your clothes look like? What time do you get up? Where do you go? How do you feel? What do you eat for lunch? Where have you been?
  • You can make lists, you can write a story, you can draw pictures. Doesn't matter how, just get the vision out of your head and onto paper.
I did this exercise spontaneously one night sitting on the train, over one year after I had finished my Plan. I was astonished to find that the intersection of my personal well-being, my career and my relationships dominated my writing.  I was also delightfully surprised to find that: a) my life wasn't that far off from what I was writing and, b) the life I wrote about felt extremely possible. You know what I think happened? I think I wasn't even aware of how much had been set in motion by that next Plan.

3.Best Year Yet – I mentioned before in the Accomplishments post my work with Best Year Yet. This is yet another system of looking at where you are in your life and where you want to be. It isn't perfect, but right now, Best Year Yet is definitely helping me to stay on track. I have teamed up with a friend to do my Best Year Yet work. We send the master report at the beginning of the year and then send monthly reports to each other.

Now What?

Congratulations. Your Plan, in whatever form, is done. While creating The Plan took more time than you expected, you feel good because now you have a clearer vision of what you want out of life. You've planted seeds in your brain and in your guts. Excellent.

Put it away. Reward yourself for a job well done. You'll know when the time has come for you to reflect on your Plan again. Yes, you will.  There's only one more step for you to take.

Enlist A Buddy

Remember the mistake I mentioned way back at Strategic Plan? Getting discouraged and sticking the plan in the file cabinet? Yeah, well, you can thank me later for making that mistake so you don't have to.

I strongly encourage you to find a person in your life whom you trust with all of your dreams, desires and junk to keep you true to your Plan. Look for someone in your life who you think might be interested in working on a Plan for their life. Going through the process with someone else, having to articulate your vision to another person is exactly what you need to bring your dreams to reality. In fact, I'm willing to try to help. If you're looking for someone, comment on this post and I'll try to match you with a Buddy.

Enlisting a Buddy has changed my life. Dreams and goals that flitted by before, like this blog, are now being acted upon. The work is not always easy. My Buddy has the ability to ask me the difficult questions. She also knows when to let me slide. My Buddy gives me permission to let those old goals that no longer fit my life disappear. And don't tell me there's no time. Once you get the Plan written, the time commitment is minimal. Both my Buddy and I have extremely full lives, sometimes bursting at the seams, but that forces us to be efficient. Because we live far apart from each other, we rely on Google Docs, email and the rare phone call. If we can find the time to work on our Plans, so can YOU.

Whew!  I know that you now have quite a bit to consider, to ponder, to contemplate.  To assist you, here's a quick summary:

Spend some time with your Dreams
Convert your Dreams into a Plan
Write your Plan down
Enlist a Buddy

I'm looking forward to your comments.


  1. Wow. This is HUGE...and well thought out, Heidi! I especially like the section on dreams. I hope all the other artists out there follow your good advice!

  2. Yes, Jean, you are correct. This is huge. Here's to boldness and courage for everyone reading this series.